If you are a mentor, you are providing a beneficial service and performing a good deed by helping someone in need.    Hopefully, you will also be enriching your own life by the mutual communication, sharing and growing that comes from a fruitful match.   It has been said that people come into our lives “for a reason, a season or a lifetime” (anonymous).  It is then up to us individually to appreciate each learning relationship in its brevity or longevity.   It is one of life’s many gifts to us as individual pieces of the whole. 

Please also consider mentoring as walking in the shoes of the bullied, alone, solitary child.   What can we each do about that plight?   

Here is a link to an op-ed by Charles Blow for the  New York Times that should touch that part deep in our hearts where action sprouts:  action based on intrinsic motivation.   There is something we each can do for that lonely child.   

Opinion | The Bleakness of the Bullied

I was having fun, but, even in the happiest of times, sorrow lurked just below the surface. A combination of traumas I had endured in my young life, not the least of which was a period of rather relentless teasing and bullying from all directions - classmates as well as extended family members - was eating me hollow.

Can you see why these developmental areas would be so important to at-risk children?

Research supports that the critical areas where mentoring helps at-risk youth include (Grossman & Garry, 1997, Herrera, Grossman, Kauh, & McMaken, 2011): 

  •  Anti-social activities
  •  Academic performance
  • Attitudes and behaviors
  • Relationships with family
  • Relationships with friends
  • Social and cultural enrichment

Can you see why these developmental areas would be so important to at-risk children?


Why kids love mentors, don't you think?

Fourteen years ago, research said that (only) 7.5% of children wanting a mentor found one, due to two factors:  a) “the limited number of mentors available”, and b) “the scarcity of organizational resources necessary” (Grossman & Garry, 1997, p. 4).  

The good news here is that mentoring has a solid historical foundation, with many long-term organizations firmly committed to mentoring longevity and support.

Mentor training practices could benefit from active training tools serving a variety of learning styles.  These learning style tools could be applied to improve communication within the match.   Research supports these benefits, specifically Rhodes & Lowe (2008), p. 8, as they take a critical look at the lack of serious research into youth mentoring. Sadly, they posit that often media cheers the feel-good aspects, “unsubstantiated by empirical evidence”, of youth mentoring as a whole, and that this in turn “discourages investigators from pursuing serious studies”.    Rhodes & Lowe (2008) discusses the importance of mentors providing  

1. Youth-centered and learner-centered agendas, 

2. The ability to model relevant mentoring skills and behaviors (providing that touch of “tough love”, and not just being a “good friend”),  

3. Effectiveness in addressing the developmental needs of the mentee  

Their research presents a somewhat skeptical analysis of benefits that may or may not be occurring, and thus challenges future research to support the actual occurrence of such benefits to the mentees.   

And lastly, Rhodes & Lowe (2008), p. 13, call for a “well-delineated, guiding conceptual framework”, well-organized, with active links to training materials, easy for users to navigate so as to use the internet capabilities for on-going training and assessment, and to provide a place where interactive, active training of volunteers can be convenient, flexible and efficient.    Our Group 3 will be doing our best to address this request for active training (Silberman, 2006). 

Research supports that while mentoring is very important, it is still only addressing the tip of the iceberg, and that “society’s focus has been too narrow”.    What is “desperately needed” is a focus on instilling “a sense of civic responsibility”, where programs concentration on missing developmental needs to develop social skills and work skills and to increase learning for our at-risk youth.   Those as young as 14 are often  considered “too old to be helped”.   BBBS matches do not provide tutoring, counseling, or drug avoidance.  They “provide adult friendship on a regular and intensive basis”  (Grossman & Garry, 1997, p. 3-5).    There is conflict amid the newest research regarding the benefits of SBM v. CBM.   It seems to be that a non-parent adult trumps another student in school because the relationship lasts longer and goes deeper (Herrera et al., 2011).  

Research repeatedly tells us that successful programmatic mentoring systems will have a reliable screening process, volunteer orientation and training, and on-going management and support of the matches.   Fundamental to these three building blocks is hiring the right volunteers  (Grossman & Furano, 2002; Sipe & Roder, 1999).     And then, once you hire them, you have to train and keep them on-board.   

Mentors are needed more than ever: Patient, tenacious and persistent mentors who are intrinsically motivated to dig deep into the developmental approaches that best support their mentees’ learning needs and interests.    Decreased budgets drive governments and cash-strapped organizations to lean ever more heavily on good-hearted volunteers to do unpaid staff work, since the staff is being laid off.   This shifting balance between volunteers and remaining staff can become out of sync when time runs short (only 24 hours in a day, anyone’s day), work load continues to pile up,  the mission is confused, the communication is spotty or random, and the buy-in is tenuous.  That sounds like a formidable challenge.   Nonetheless, Grossman & Furano (2002), in their abstract, posited that (in 2002!) that more than 90,000,000 Americans give more than 20,000,000,000 volunteer hours, and in return, feel more social and community engagement, learn about other cultures, and increase their “physical and psychic vitality”.     Garringer adds that between 2002 and 2005, the number of young mentees in mentor matches (U.S. alone) increased by 3,000,000, due to mentoring becoming part of “countless” interventions (Garringer, 2007, citing MENTOR, 2006a).

So, the needs of  mentees are increasing, and their number is growing.  The budgets of mentoring groups are shrinking.  The number of mentor volunteers seems to be increasing, but this does not mean that match longevity is increasing.  Alas, the quality of oversight organizational infrastructure may not be keeping up.   

Research offers that“there is little agreement on how mentoring actually creates change in youth or on the amount and types of impact it can have” (Garringer, 2007).    Perhaps mentoring works because kids want to be heard, want to count, want to have impact, similar in many ways to what made the Hawthorne Effect famous.  (Link).   

Mentoring that is beneficial in the long-term to the mentee requires:

  • attention to supervisory infrastructure, 
  • management and support of the match, and 
  • good-hearted mentors buoyed by intrinsic motivation to keep going because of the infrastructure they have in their hearts and souls.  

We will need to save our at-risk youth.   It may be by one thoughtful, committed, intrinsically-motivated match at a time. 


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