Making a Difference Through Mentoring
By Dana Razzano, Internet Reporter
Most proponents of mentoring programs would agree that the true impact of mentoring is immeasurable. National statistics on the effects of mentoring are few, but independent studies have found that young people with mentors are less likely to use drugs and alcohol, smoke and engage in violent acts. These benefits not only affect at-risk youth, but also all young people in need of some support.
"A lot of kids don't have someone they can turn to for consistency and guidance," said Colleen Appleby-Carroll, Director of Information Services for the National Mentoring Partnership. "[Young people] can either fulfill their potential or take away from society. Mentoring can help [youth] fulfill their potential."
Recognizing this need, the National Mentoring Partnership (NMP) serves as a national mentoring resource, providing all the information necessary for communities to start their own mentoring programs. The NMP's web site features programming guidelines and information, mentoring publications, the latest mentoring news, success stories, legislation updates, technical assistance and connects interested volunteers to programs in their area.
"If every one of us looks back on our own lives, we can identify several people other than our parents that have shown us the ropes and if they didn't, we may be significantly less than we are now," said Carroll. Most students in mentoring programs are between the ages of 11 and 17, when times at school can be toughest and young people are looking to have someone in their lives that are a bit more objective than their parents, she said.
According to Carroll, the best mentors are those who listen, care about young people and are consistent. The best-case scenario for mentoring would be to link up with a child and have that relationship last through high school. NMP hopes for, at a minimum, a six-month commitment because it has been found that mentors that are in a child's life for less than six months can actually be damaging to that child. "The longer you can commit, the better for the child," she said.
However, not all mentoring programs require the same type of commitment. Some mentoring programs are school-based, and run according to the school's academic calendar. Other programs that offer flexibility include work-based programs, where young people are brought into their mentor's workplace to see first-hand what it is like in a work environment and the behavior and professionalism that is required. Despite the different time commitments and contexts, these programs have also shown to be effective, said Carroll.
Because of the need for commitment and consistency, Carroll said that most mentors are younger, unmarried men and women without the time constraints of having children at home. Additionally, the growing and very active retiree population makes this group very ripe for mentoring opportunities, she said.
A Chance to Succeed
The National Mentoring Partnership was created in 1990 by successful businessmen Geoff Boisi and Ray Chambers. According to Carroll, Boisi and Chambers kept hearing from young people, particularly those at-risk, that there wasn't a place for them and they felt disconnected from society. Both men realized the common denominator for their own success was having a mentor, or more than one, throughout their lives. Boisi and Chambers decided to create the NMP, so that young people could also experience the same guidance and support they received from having a mentor.
In order to attain that goal, NMP actively supports the expansion efforts of mentoring programs and works to foster links between communities and states to sustain program funding. NMP's Public Policy Council acts as a Congressional watchdog, keeping mentoring organizations up to date on what Congress is doing to support mentoring and what they can do to influence Congress' actions.
In order to assist with the expansion and membership in mentoring programs, more than 4,500 programs are affiliated and linked with NMP's web site, providing interested volunteers with a large pool of local programs to choose to work with. All programs associated with NMP follow the organization's Elements of Effective Practice guidelines to ensure the mentoring programs are of the highest quality.
Cool Girls and Cool Sisters
One such program that operates with the highest quality efforts is Cool Girls, Inc. in Atlanta, Ga. Since its start in 1989, more than 700 girls from low-income neighborhoods have learned the importance of self-empowerment and have been exposed to the broader world of opportunity that exists outside their communities, said Pamela Hurst, Director of Volunteer Services for Cool Girls.
Cool Girls focuses on the importance of mentoring, introducing educational opportunities and bridging the gap in terms of technology. "It is hard to aspire to do anything when you don't know what other opportunities exist," said Hurst.
What started as a group of 15 girls, pulled together by Dawn Smith at a local recreational center, has blossomed into a full-fledged community organization that operates four different Cool programs out of five different sites and has a membership of 265 girls.
According to Hurst, the popularity of the club grew by word-of-mouth. The organization does set up a table at local schools during the beginning of the academic year to pass out information and some girls are referred to the club by teachers, but a majority of participants join because they have a friend in Cool Girls.
Addressing Growing Needs And Opportunities
Members of the Cool Girls Club learn life skills such as pregnancy prevention, violence prevention and self-defense, entrepreneurship and cultural awareness. A central aspect to the program is going on field trips to give girls a first-hand view of what opportunities lay ahead if they desire.
The success of Cool Girls fostered the growth of Cool Sisters, a one-to-one mentoring program; Cool Tech, a program that focuses on technology, communication skills and money management; and Cool Scholars, an after-school tutoring program to help girls with reading, writing and mathematics and to strive for academic excellence.
All Cool Girls can participate in any of the programs they wish, however, only 52 girls have mentors and there is a waiting list for other Cool Sisters. If a girls signs up for a Cool Sister, once she is in the Cool Girls Club for one year staff members partner her with a mentor. According to Hurst, this one-year period allows the staff time to get to know her family and find a good mentor match.
Volunteers in the Cool Sisters program are required to commit for a minimum of one year, and must make one phone call to their Cool Girl each week and two personal contacts each month. Despite the required one-year minimum commitment, most Cool Sister matches last more than four years in duration. Hurst attributes this tremendous success rate to the strong support provided to the volunteers. Volunteers come in for rap sessions and get a chance to discuss their struggles, success and share ideas with one another as they go through this mentoring process. Many of the Cool Sisters are single, professional women, who don't have a lot of experience with teens, said Hurst. The rap sessions give the volunteers the support they need to stay committed to the program.
According to Hurst, the positive effects of Cool Girls on participants are the kinds of small changes that most people don't think are a big deal. The fact these girls talk about college, about jobs and take on small pieces of leadership and responsibility are very big changes, especially because these ideas were never before even assumed to be in their future, said Hurst.
Thanks to a JUMP grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), Cool Girls has been able to hire a full time coordinator for Cool Sisters program. The coordinator is scheduled to recruit 50 new volunteers to expand the Cool Sisters program to double the number of mentors now available.
The Future of Mentoring
The wave of e-mentoring is catching on, says Carroll, because a lot of kids feel comfortable talking about things online that they wouldn't want to disclose in person. E-Mentoring establishes a traditional mentor/mentee relationship that is carried out on-line, rather than in person. Through e-mail chats and instant-messaging, participants can be paired with someone from the other side of the country to discuss challenges and questions.
As part of this e-mentoring trend, NMP recently launched the Digital Heroes Program, which recruited 100 notable and successful individuals and 100 AOL employees to serve as e-mentors to youth involved in the PowerUp mentoring programs. The PowerUp organization is often based in The Boys and Girls Clubs, to help underserved children bridge the digital divide and learn how to use the Internet effectively, said Carroll. NMP has also started a national e-mentoring clearinghouse that will provide e-mentoring specific information, from how to set up an e-mentoring program to online and onsite training.
The flexibility and variety of mentoring opportunities make it more convenient than ever for volunteers to participate. "Don't be afraid that you won't make a good mentor because you're not skilled in one area," said Carroll. "If you're a good listener, then you'll be a good mentor."
For more information on the National Mentoring Partnership, visit:
For more information on Cool Girls, Inc., visit:
Cool Girls, Inc.
100 Edgewood Avenue, NE, Suite 1000
Atlanta, GA 30303
159 Burgin Parkway | Quincy, MA 02169
617-471-4445 | Fax 617-770-3339