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Staff Spotlight - Robert Medel

Robert Medel, Peer Support Program Coordinator and Bismarck Mejia

Robert Medel, Peer Support Program Coordinator and Bismarck Mejia

Robert Medel's professional training formed a solid foundation for his current role in coordinating a community based mentoring program designed to reach individuals with traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury and other disabilities between the ages of 16 and 26. As a substance abuse counselor with young adults, an assistant to the psychologist at a continuation school and a family counselor working with teens at risk, he was familiar with socially disenfranchised populations in general and the age group in particular. But it was his personal experience that reinforced the value of a mentor relationship."When I was in college one of my pysch professors made a special effort to help me with an academic direction and a career path. She helped connect me to intern projects and resources and was always ready with advice or suggestions. She supported my hope that psychology was a field where I could make a living and also make an impact doing something that mattered to other people. She had already been down some of the roads I wanted to follow and that helped a great deal."

In working to develop the Back on Track Mentoring Program at SCVMC, Robert also had to add a good portion of perseverance to his training and experience. "My first thought was that a mentoring opportunity would have an immediate appeal to both the mentors and the mentees. But there were a number of challenges that weren't initially obvious. Probably the biggest problem to overcome was that some of the potential participants in the program didn't see the point of getting involved with a disabled mentor because they weren't really planning on being disabled themselves, at least not for long. It takes a while for that reality to settle in, especially with teens and young adults."

"Another difficulty was just getting the word out. There weren't many existing communication channels to tell people about the program, so I did quite a bit of leg work. I met one-on-one with physicians and rehab specialists and put together a lot of presentations in rehab facilities including the SCVMC rehab center, colleges, businesses and just about anywhere I thought there was an opportunity to reach potential mentors and participants. At one point I was stopping people on the street or in the mall who I thought might have a need and an interest. Additionally, any time you're working with young adults, most of whom will be living at home, you have to spend a good amount of time with families and other care givers."

Over time, and after considerable recruitment efforts, interviews and mentor training and support, Robert brought together around 20 pairs of participants for the program. "Simply sharing the same or a similar disability is never going to be enough reason for two people to form a relationship. We looked at a lot of different criteria and matched people up on a combination of the tangible and the intangible. Some groupings, like any other relationship in life just didn't work. There were others that surprised us. Pairs of people who otherwise didn't have much in common really came together." "Once we had made initial pairings the work has been directed toward enrolling new participants and supporting the existing relationships. Along with helping the mentors with documentation, I check in regularly with both parties and with the mentor and mentee individually. We get some attrition for any number of reasons. Sometimes the participant just isn't ready for the program. And sometimes the mentor isn't comfortable with the mentee's environment or behavior." "But when it works, it goes beyond the value of the research study, which is considerable in its own right. There's some real progress being made on the human level. For me, it's very gratifying to see some young person I first met in a clinical setting out in the world, laughing and talking freely with his or her mentor."

The Back on Track mentoring program, developed to help facilitate general community re-integration as well as to evaluate educational and vocational outcomes, is near the end point of its initial five year grant. "My hope is that we can continue the program, continue to enroll new participants and possibly expand the age for the mentees. The guidelines call for at least a year commitment with an average of two years, but I expect a number of the relationships to endure beyond that time." "What we've seen is that the mentors can be effective in sharing experiences related to navigating the system of services available. They have a very personalized understanding of resources and there's an inspiration factor that's hard to quantify, but I see it and hear it frequently. One of the mentees I work with looked at his mentor and said, If he could do it, I can do it'. That's what makes it worthwhile for me. That's why I'm working hard to help keep the program moving forward.

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