One Mentor’s Take: How Mentoring Programs Can Support New Matches

Photograph of a young mentor sitting at her desk.

It's not enough to match young people in at-risk situations with caring adult mentors. Research shows that for mentoring to have a lasting impact, the one-on-one relationships need to have staying power. But mentoring matches are made by well-meaning strangers -- because that’s what program staff are, essentially. And even with interests in common, new mentors can struggle to make their tenuous connections with mentees blossom into real, organic relationships.

Take NCFY staff member and volunteer mentor Ravenna Motil-McGuire. She was matched with a Washington, DC, teenager last summer. Motil-McGuire loves mentoring, but finds that the mismatched schedules of a high schooler and a young professional, as well as the distractions of adolescence, can get in the way of meetings.

“She would usually rather be with her boyfriend than with me – 14-year-old love is a difficult thing to compete with,” Motil-McGuire says. The cost of transportation and events can also be obstacles.

Motil-McGuire offers five steps she thinks mentoring programs can take to support mentors and mentees in the early stages, after the initial training:

  1. Regularly tell mentors about free and low-cost events they can attend with their mentees. Make sure to include events across the area that the program covers. “It would be good to know about events near where my mentee lives,” Motil-McGuire says.
  2. Offer discounted or donated tickets to the theater, music events, sports or museum shows. Motil-McGuire’s program recently offered cheap tickets to Cirque du Soleil.
  3. Provide transportation assistance for mentors and mentees – perhaps organizing carpooling for organized events or subsidizing public transportation costs if possible.
  4. Give refresher training every couple of months. “It’s easy to burn out if a mentee is disinterested,” Motil-McGuire says. “Ongoing training could give mentors new ideas, support their relationships with their mentees and reinforce their commitment to the program.”
  5. Call the mentor to check in at least once a month. “No matter how things are going, it’s good to have a sounding board,” she says. “Regular conversations with mentoring staff can help ensure that small challenges don’t become big ones.”
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