Toronto
2 min

The dirty old man?

Youth mentoring group won't let fear get in the way

STEREOTYPES. Leslie Chudnofsky says we have to overcome them. Credit: Mark Bogdanovic

The stereotype of dirty old men preying on young boys still exists – even in the minds of the gay men who reject it.



Supporting Our Youth’s Leslie Chudnofsky says the creators of the Mentoring And Housing Project knew they had to deal with this from the beginning.



“If we did not start new programs because people were afraid of the stereotype, then there would never be any change in the world.



“At the beginning of the program, people did discuss the fears that they had, but we knew these were stereotypes to overcome,” says Chudnofsky, a social worker and lesbian mom.



And she says many members of the community had no qualms. SOY received more than 100 inquiries from prospective volunteers after placing its first ad.



All kinds of studies say that up to 90 percent of paedophiles are heterosexual, yet the stereotype persists. Chudnofsky hopes the project will counteract that image.



But there is troubleshooting.



To rule out the possibility that adults will join for the wrong reasons, there’s a comprehensive screening process. “It involves an orientation to the program followed by an application package, which includes two personal references, a work reference, we do a police check and a medical reference,” says Chudnofsky.



After a clean application, she sits down with applicants for several hours to determine their suitability and to match them up with the appropriate youth.



“It’s clearly stated that if a mentor is to act in any way romantically or sexually towards a youth, their involvement in the program would be terminated,” says Chudnofsky, who stresses that the program is led by the needs of the youngster.



“The youth at any time can say that they’re not comfortable for any reason.”



The program sprang from the Other Young Lives II conference in 1996 – and it’s now one year old. As of this month, 15 teens have been paired up with mentors who offer everything from support for coming out to teaching them about the history of the community.



“We have gay, lesbian, transexual and transgender mentors, a really diverse age range – 28 to 62 years old – and there’s a PFLAG mom involved.”



Chudnofsky says the group is always looking for more volunteers.



The housing aspect of the program hasn’t been quite as successful. Although SOY has secured five units from the Bleeker Street Cooperative Homes, they’re still in need of volunteers to house youth, or other units. This is important because while they mostly help youth from Toronto, SOY has recently gotten calls from locations such as Cobourg and Sarnia. They’re currently in discussion with other co-ops but haven’t finalized anything yet.



According to project supervisor Bev Lepischak the original funding came from the Trillium Foundation, but they’ve been fundraising constantly over the past year, including a bowlathon last month, which raised $12,000.



SUPPORTING OUR YOUTH.

65 Wellesley St E, #300

Toronto M4Y 1G7.

(416) 924-2100.

soy@soytoronto.org.