FAIRFIELD, Conn. -- Paul Muratore found the experience of helping at-risk youth rewarding when he signed on as a volunteer at The Children’s Village of Dobbs Ferry 30 years ago.
Now newly retired and seeing the challenges facing the teens from the Village, the Fairfield University grad is launching a new program to help them integrate more quickly and more fully into society.
The Children’s Village works to help society’s most vulnerable children so that they become educationally proficient, equipped to work, and responsible members of their communities. The Village serves 10,000 children and their families in the New York metropolitan area every year.
“I heard about The Children’s Village when I moved to Westchester County (in New York) 30 years ago,’’ said Muratore, who retired last year after a career in advertising and commercial production. “I visited, and I was blown away by the challenges there. It stops you in your tracks.”
Muratore also discovered children who left the Village as older teenagers had nowhere to go. “Although some kids leave campus and go back to their families, many boys have no one to go home to,’’ he said. “Literally, not one person who cares about their future.”
In April, Muratore launched Connections, which helps Children’s Village teens transition into the real world. His vision is to recruit volunteer mentors to help young men find their next step, whether it’s college, employment, the military or vocational training.
Muratore has mentored many boys and young men during his association with the group. “When one of the boys was discharged, I’d get another kid,’’ he said. “I stayed in touch with the boy who was discharged, but many times things would start to unravel. When you try to be independent, having come from such challenging situations, it’s incredibly hard to make that adjustment.”
That’s where Muratore hopes Connections steps in. He plans to have mentors help students find their next path. “It’s up to the kids to design their future,’’ Muratore said. “But that can be daunting. The mentors will help them navigate that and guide them in making good choices of their available options. They’re not telling kids what pathway to take. They help them explore.options”
While exploring pathways might seem a simple solution for most older teenagers, Muratore says many Children’s Village youth don’t have the support system to help them take the next step.
“Those hurdles to you and me may seem small,’’ Muratore said. “But what happens if you lose medical care? Or you get accepted to a community college and don’t have a laptop? They could live in a group home and not have Wi-Fi. What might seem like non-obstacles can really de-stabilize their progress.”
Muratore finds young men transitioning from The Children’s Village have only a short window to make critical decisions. “It’s as if there’s a pilot light,’’ he said, “and we want to get them before it goes out. If we don’t, it’s not impossible, but it can be very hard to get that light to re-kindle.”
To accomplish that, he needs mentors and financing. His goal is to recruit 100 mentors for a one-year commitment. “It’s going to take time to establish trust,’’ Muratore said. “For a lot of these kids, this will be the first non-paid meaningful relationship that they’ve had. We don’t want mentors to be Santa Claus. Mentors give the gifts of time, understanding and friendship. We endeavor to affirm their self worth."
Fundraising is Muratore’s other chief challenge and where his business background benefits him. The Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. resident said his years as the long-time President and CEO of New York-based Talent Partners, has helped prepare him for this new venture in his life.
“It’s an amazing feeling when you can impact someone’s life as a volunteer,’’ he said. “It doesn’t cost any money. You bring yourself to the table and say ‘I care about you.’ It’s a profound message.”
Click here to learn more about Connections, and here for Children’s Village. Donations to Connections go directly to assist the young men transitioning out of foster care. Click here to donate to Connections.
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