Since 1993, the Circle Program’s focus has been on the healthy development of at-risk New Hampshire girls between the ages of 9 and 12. The mission—to guide socially and economically disadvantaged girls during a crucial period in their development—is delivered through a unique combination of adult and peer support in a residential summer camp session and year-round mentoring program. Many of the girls referred to the Circle Program are subject to certain risk factors that are statistically correlated with substance abuse, dropping out of school, teen pregnancy, delinquency and violence. However, research has shown that risk factors can be mitigated by the intervention of adult mentors. The Circle Program is dedicated to the understanding that at-risk girls can overcome difficult circumstances by developing the friendship and support of a caring adult outside her immediate family and by belonging to a “Circle” of girls and women who provide support, guidance, and nurturing. The program begins with a two-week residential camp session in late summer of each year that builds a strong sense of community among Circle participants. It also provides a structured environment that encourages that development of leadership and decision-making skills, self-confidence, and positive social interaction. From September until June of the following year, the Circle Program provides one-on-one mentoring, matching each Circle girl with a female adult volunteer from her community. Circle Program girls meet with their mentors a minimum of twice each month. Whether they are serving holiday meals to senior citizens, going for a hike, doing arts and crafts, or splitting a pizza, the girls and their mentors build a relationship based on mutual respect and trust. Mentors, or “Follow-Up Friends,” continue to offer guidance on issues of self-care and personal responsibility that were introduced during the camp session. Mentors and Circle Program participants meet as a large group every other month to continue building on the sense of community and belonging that was established at the residential camp session. Activities range from recreational outings to participation as a group in community service. The heart and soul of the Circle Program is the corps of 35 volunteers who act as mentors. This is a dedicated group of women who believe that making the investment of spending time with a child in need now, means a lifetime of benefits in the future. They offer their friendship and trust to children who might otherwise slip through the cracks. Since 1993, more than 135 women have volunteered their time to be mentors. In 2001 alone, 35 volunteers made 529 visits, drove 19,571 miles, and spent close to 2,400 hours with their Circle girls. It is their commitment and compassion that makes the Circle Program what it is and that touches the lives of New Hampshire girls.
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