How to Start a Mentoring Program

Starting a youth mentoring program is a huge project to take on, but the rewards are endless. If you are just starting out in the mentoring world, the first thing to do is research. Absorb as much information as you can on mentoring: what it is, what it means to be a mentor, the benefits of mentoring and how mentoring impacts both the youth and adult. There are plenty of scholarly journals on the internet and many mentoring programs have websites. You may also want to check out different materials your local library may have- even stories from mentors and mentees may help you get a better idea of the importance of mentoring.

When you have a better understanding of mentoring, you can begin to see how it can help people in your community. Before you get started on the structure of the program, you must first do a needs assessment. You have to take a look around your community and see what the needs are of the youth in your community. When conducting a needs assessment, make sure to find out if there are other mentoring programs in your community and what populations they serve. Do research on your city- the economy, number of children, average test scores and number of single parent households. Who do you want to serve? How can a mentoring program help this population? Once you identify the youth you would like to serve, you can decide what kind of mentoring your program will have and the kinds of mentors you would like to recruit.

There are four main types of mentoring: traditional (one-to-one) mentoring, peer mentoring, group mentoring and e-mentoring. Traditional mentoring is one adult to one youth. Peer mentoring is youth mentoring youth; for example, a high school senior mentoring a high school freshman. Group mentoring is one mentor to a group of mentees the recommended ratio is usually one mentor to no more than four mentees. E-mentoring is an online mentoring relationship, in which participants “meet” in the virtual world by communicating by email, facebook, Instant Messenger, MySpace, and other social networking sites.

There are two categories into which these types of mentoring fall: site-based and community-based. Site-based mentoring is where mentors meet with there mentees at a certain place. The best example of this is mentors meeting with their mentees at school. Community-based mentoring involves mentors meeting with their mentees outside of school or another site. Mentors could take their mentees to the movies, the park, etc.

Once you have figured out who you want to serve and how you want to serve them, you can begin planning the structure of your program.

There is an abundance of resources online for starting a mentoring program. Mentoring.org offers a “Start a Program” section. Go through everything in this section. The most important advice given in this article is to read the Elements of Effective Practice, which is offered on the site. This is a handbook for starting a program from scratch. This is the bible for creating and implementing a mentoring program. It comes complete with research, worksheets and timelines.

In the first three months, you want to form an advisory board and develop mission and vision statements. A mission statement basically sums up your program and its purpose in one or two sentences. A vision statement is saying what you would like to see in the future as a result of your program.

After you establish the mission and vision statement, you should begin developing your policy and procedures manual. Your policy and procedures manual is the structure of your program and the basis of how you want things to run. Policies are the rules and ways of which you want things done. Procedures are the methods used to follow these policies. Along with policies and procedures, paperwork for the program is also created and included in this manual. The best way to create your policy and procedure manual is to use a generic template like the one offered by the Northwest Regional Education Library. This resource gives you an example of a policy and procedures manual and a generic template from which you can simply just change the name of the program to your own or make changes to fit your program. This resource also includes all paperwork for your program.

With your policy and procedures manual in place, you want to create an annual recruitment plan, begin networking with local schools, churches and other mentoring agencies, and hire a staff to help you. If you are not planning to be the program coordinator, make sure to hire one. This is one of the most important jobs in the program. Job descriptions of the program coordinator can be found on many mentoring websites. In the following three to six months, you want to begin recruiting mentors and mentees, conducting an orientation and begin matching participants. Orientations are given to potential participants to introduce them to the program, ease any concerns they may have and to answer questions.

When you begin receiving applications, you must conduct a background check. This is for the safety of your program and your program’s participants. Usually, a background check involves an interview with the potential mentor, an interview with references and checking for state or federal violations. Most states have a background check online. For example, Michigan has an online program called ICHAT (Internet Criminal History Access Tool), which is run by the Michigan State Police. Most states also have a sex offender registry and child abuse registry. Some mentoring programs even ask for a fingerprint check. If you are unsure of what to do for a background check, speak with another mentoring program or the local police department.

Throughout the program, it is important to monitor and support the matches. This is done by providing trainings for your mentors and checking up each month to make sure the relationship is going well and that they are meeting program requirements. It is also important to show your appreciation to the mentor by sending cards, holding events for mentors and mentees and by having a mentor recognition event each year. A mentor who feels supported and appreciated is likely to stay a mentor and recruit others.

You will also want your program to include an evaluation and match closure summary. Grant writing is also an important task in your program. This is how many programs are funded.

There are a lot of responsibilities in starting a youth mentoring program. Having a motivated and diverse staff will help you get the program started. Taking this on alone would not be recommended, though it can be done. Most importantly, make sure to go out in your community and network. You will be surprised at how many people want to help.