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Mentoring project helps teens with disabilities

VanAuch (Pia Christensen / The Spokesman-Review)
VanAuch (Pia Christensen / The Spokesman-Review)

Mentoring program serves youth with disabilities

With January being National Mentoring Month, there is no better time than now to follow through on that New Year’s resolution about getting more involved.

Project MOVE, a mentoring program for Spokane County youth with disabilities, is searching for adult mentors who can commit to a yearlong mentoring program.

“We have a wide range of student needs, and anyone regardless of your profession, can be a mentor,” said Tim Foster, the match coordinator for Project MOVE. “There is always a higher need for male mentors; I’m not quite sure why that is.”

Project MOVE is modeled after the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program and it accepts youth between 16 and 21 with any sort of developmental barrier that may get in the way of their full potential.

“When people hear disability they often think wheel chair, but that’s just some of our students,” said Foster.

A mentor is introduced to a student yet both have to agree that they are a good match. They then meet once a month – or more – talk on the phone and e-mail to stay in touch.

“The best mentoring relationships are the ones that start out as friendships,” said Frost. “And it’s the ones that are guided rather than directed; where the mentor listens and doesn’t just say ‘this is what you should do.’ ”

Veronica VanAuch, 20, has been in Project MOVE since a high school teacher suggested she may benefit from a mentor.

“I was really unsure about what to do,” said VanAuch, who now works in her mom’s mortgage business. “The mentors I’ve had helped me set goals, they helped me understand who I am and what I wanted to do after graduation. It’s very different from a high school counselor – they are focused on getting you through school, mentoring is more about after school. ”

VanAuch has Asperger’s Syndrome which she said makes social interaction and relationships very difficult.

“I have a hard time understanding the social context of things,” said VanAuch, “and often I’m afraid that I just won’t succeed.”

VanAuch’s latest mentor, Sara Desautel, account coordinator with Desautel-Hege Communications, has helped her set goals and make specific accomplishments.

“I got my driver’s license, that was a really big one,” VanAuch said.

Desautel said mentoring VanAuch was her first experience with Project MOVE.

She’d just moved back to Spokane and wanted to find a way to get more involved in the community.

“I saw a lot of potential in Veronica from the beginning. We met frequently and talked on the phone, on a weekly basis,” Desautel said. “I got a lot of help getting my career started and I feel it’s my turn to help those who don’t perhaps have that.”

Overall, it’s been a positive experience.

“I feel Veronica and I became very good friends, and I saw major progress in the time I mentored her,” Desautel said. “I’d do it again at a time where my schedule allows for it.”

VanAuch said she feels like she benefited, too.

“Sara has also helped me make a list of specific goals, like I would like to go to college,” said VanAuch. “I’m not sure exactly what I want to study in college but I feel like I can get into SCC or SFCC. Sara helped me figure that out.”

VanAuch has high regard for Project MOVE.

“When you have things in common with your mentor, when there’s a good connection, then it really works,” she said.

Reach Pia Hallenberg Christensen at (509) 459-5427 or