Peer Mentor Program Supports Teens with Autism

Easter Seals-Goodwill Northern Rocky Mountain Honored with the 2015 Goodwill Volunteer Program of the Year Award 

Salt Lake City, UT — Teens in Salt Lake City with high-functioning autism have an opportunity to gain real world experience in an employment setting with support from teen mentors who offer friendship and advice. Peer Connections – a program of Easter Seals-Goodwill Northern Rocky Mountain (Great Falls, MT) – was recently named the 2015 Goodwill Volunteer Program of the Year by Goodwill Industries International.
The goal of the Peer Connections program is for participating students to decrease their social anxiety while increasing self-confidence, communication skills and problem-solving. Each student is assigned to a volunteer site and paired with a peer mentor for nine weeks. The peer-mentor works side-by-side on the volunteer project providing the students with someone with whom they can interact socially from whom they can ask for advice in confusing or difficult situations.
The mentor-mentee teams are required to perform three hours of community service and job training a week. The volunteer assignments focus on customer service rather than specific job tasks, which allow students to practice interactions that give them the most difficulty.
Diverse community assignments have included welcoming patrons and explaining exhibits in a science museum; cooking and serving meals to families staying at Ronald McDonald House; running family craft activities and facilitating outside games at a farm site; and serving as ushers in a non-profit theater.
In 2014, peer mentors volunteered more than 1,600 hours.
“The Peer Connections program is a perfect example of Goodwill working with individual communities to meet specific needs,” said Jim Gibbons, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries International. “The Great Falls Goodwill’s innovative program demonstrates its commitment to the community and the people it serves.”
The Volunteer Program of the Year Award recognizes an outstanding volunteer-driven program at a member Goodwill organization that is mission focused and outcomes oriented. The winning program has a lasting impact on the people Goodwill serves and is a model for other Goodwill organizations to replicate.