Mentoring can be one of the most rewarding experiences for both the mentor and the child being mentored. If done correctly, mentoring has shown to change the affects of poverty and to assist youth in lifting themselves out of dire situations placing them on a path to success. Mentoring gives children the ability to change their circumstances, helps to build elf-esteem, increases diversity awareness, teaches children how to maintain successful relationships with adults, and builds successful decision-making skills. The very first thing to consider, when starting a youth mentoring program, is the needs of the community or school where the program will be set up. Mentor programs unite people for a common goal.
Consider the needs of the youth to be served. What are your goals and why are you setting up this type of program? The kind of mentoring program will depend on the objectives for the youth in your community or school. Ask the following questions first:
What are the advantages of a mentor program?
What other programs are in place to address community issues affecting youth?
Is a mentor program appropriate to address community needs?
What is to be gained by participating in a mentor program?
If the advantages of a mentoring program meet your needs, then you are ready to consider the form of mentoring program needed. There are basically two types of youth mentoring programs: youth to youth, and adult to youth. In the youth to youth programs, mentoring tends to be directed at improving academics. In most situations, high school aged students are paired with younger middle school students and elementary school students. The older student is there to provide support, a listening ear, and tutoring. Youth to youth mentors, by virtue of the fact that they are not adults yet, are often accepted more readily by troubled students versus an adult mentor. The advantages of an adult to youth mentoring program are that they provide adult attention to children who may be missing this type of attention, and adults have worldly experience which they are able to share with their youth counterpart, guiding them toward a successful future.
When setting up the program, the program will only be as good its volunteers. Be prepared to train, train, train! Contact your local mental health organization to find out what type of training assistance they can provide to potential mentors. With youth to youth programs, it is important to have a knowledgeable adult (like a teacher or education administrator) to work with the older students in order to address issues that they may come across. It is important for mentors to understand how to handle things that may be shared with them, specifically abuse and neglect, or what to do if they suspect this. Additionally, it is important to screen participants. Set up a strict criterion for potential youth mentors and stick to it. You may want to work with a specific high school organization and its sponsor, like PALS or the National Honor Society, to obtain youth mentors. With the adult to youth program, before adults come in contact with children, you will need to do criminal histories and background checks to assure that you are not allowing sex offenders or abusers to come in contact with children. Contact your local law enforcement agency for assistance with this.
Once mentors have been recruited, background checks have been passed, and mentors have been trained, you will need to set up a contract with the mentors, asking for specific time commitments of at least 6 months to a year. The longer the period of time, the more successful the mentorships will tend to be. The next step is to identify the youth in need of mentors. Survey the children on their interests. Survey your mentors on their interests. Using this information, you will try to pair up mentors with protgs based on commonalities. Inform mentors to whom their protg will be, giving them as much information as possible.
The first meeting should be at a set time with a very specific agenda. Perhaps have mentors and protgs meet in one room together while playing getting to know you games. After the first meeting, the goals can be more open ended. As the administrator of the program, you will need to follow up with mentors frequently, especially at the beginning, in order to assure the success of the program. Additionally, you will want to monitor the progress of the youth participants to assure that the objectives of the program are being met.
There is so much to be gained from a youth mentor program. These types of programs have proven to be valuable to both mentors and protgs. So, take time to develop a thorough needs assessment, do your homework, and recruit those volunteers. Remember that volunteers are just that volunteers! Treat them well and they will do right by you and the youths who they serve. Good luck!