Mentor Me joining Petaluma People Services Center

The youth nonprofit, facing hard financial times, is linking up with a larger organization for stability.|

A well-known Petaluma youth nonprofit is joining a larger nonprofit to take advantage of financial stability at a time of uncertainty for charitable organizations.

Mentor Me, which links struggling youth with adult mentors, is joining Petaluma People Services Center. Mentor Me will become the 60th program of PPSC, which operates an array of services including Meals on Wheels, Fair Housing Petaluma and the Bounty community farm.

“Mentor Me found itself in a place where, in order to be successful, it needed to make a change,” said Elece Hempel, executive director of PPSC. “They need some dollars. My challenge is to find them some dollars.”

Facing financial hardships, Mentor Me reached out to PPSC about coming on board, Hempel said. She said many regional nonprofits have suffered since the 2017 North Bay wildfires as donors diverted dollars to disaster relief and rebuilding efforts.

The board of Mentor Me, which was founded in 2000, voted last month to lay off its executive director, a cost saving move that left it without a leader.

Once the merger is finalized, Hempel will oversee Mentor Me, which will have its own program director under PPSC. The 13 Mentor Me employees are expected to stay through the transition, said Catina Haugen, Mentor Me’s board president.

“We’re working on a plan to make sure the transition can be smooth,” she said. “Mentors and mentees won’t notice a change. It is happening behind the scenes.”

Hempel said Mentor Me will benefit from PPSC’s ability to go after grant funding.

“Our hope is that we can go out and chase some federal grants,” she said. “If you don’t have a federal grant, you can’t get a federal grant. It’s an interesting conundrum.”

Hempel said she expects the deal to close in mid-January. The PPSC board has already approved the deal, and the Mentor Me board needs to give its final approval.

Mentor Me will continue to be based at the Cavanagh Recreation Center, which provides after school programs.

“As a PPSC program, Mentor Me will continue to use Cavanagh Center as a hub for mentorships and remains committed to finding adult mentors in our community to match with wait listed students,” said Katherine Wells, PPSC board president.

The organization, which survived on small grants and private donations, has approached PPSC in the past about taking over its operations, Hempel said.

“Their financial situation was very tentative,” she said. “The best way to say it, in order to continue providing quality programs, they needed to find a place to fit in.”

Mentor Me’s Mad Hatter Ball was usually one of the best attended events on the Petaluma fundraiser circuit. Haugen said she would like to see the event continue.

Haugen said the Petaluma community, especially the nearly 300 youth that Mentor Me serves, will benefit from the partnership.

“This is the ideal way to move forward that’s viable and sustainable for the students we serve,” she said. “It’s an ideal partnership.”

(Contact Matt Brown at

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