Bright Idea: Sometimes Six Mentors Are Better Than One

Photograph of a young woman with one of her mentors.

When Annette Klinefelter sat down to design a mentoring program for girls in Portland, Oregon, the professional women who would serve as the program’s mentors had a few minor stipulations.

They were busy, with constant deadlines and travel. They couldn’t volunteer after 5 p.m., when family obligations kicked in. They wanted to interact directly with girls, but they didn’t want to disappoint a young person if other duties called.

No problem.

Klinefelter and her colleagues at Girls Inc. of Northwest Oregon launched the Associates Mentoring Program in 2007, giving middle and high school girls hands-on experience at a workplace. Mentors and mentees meet after school in teams of 10 (five or six women and four or five girls).

The group environment has benefits for the girls, says Shawna Chambers, who runs the program. If a mentor must travel for work, the team meeting goes on without her. And girls leave the program with four or five role models, rather than just one.

Here are Chambers’ tips on starting similar programs, whether for girls or boys:

Tap board members, former volunteers, and parents. These folks will be happy to sponsor a team at their workplace, refer their friends or host an event, Chambers says.

Create teams thoughtfully. At each workplace, Chambers works with a point person who recruits mentors from within the company’s ranks. “We like to take into consideration educational experience, job responsibilities, and general life experience,” she says. When placing girls on a team, she picks girls from different parts of the city and different schools and matches them with the best fitting company.

Plan a range of activities. In addition to twice-monthly meetings lasting 1 ½ to 2 hours, the Associates Mentoring Program includes career exploration, fun activities such as bowling and hiking, a friendly team competition and community service. 

Include one-on-one mentoring. The women and girls in each team match themselves with a partner after the first few meetings. “It helps the mentees take some ownership of their relationship when they give input into their one-on-one matching,” Chambers says. Each pair gets in touch at least once a month by e-mail or telephone or in person. 

Make the program pay for itself. At Girls Inc., each team is sponsored by its host company, which pays for snacks and materials and agrees to raise money for the charity. (The goal is $5,000 for a mid-sized company.)

Keep group relationships going after the program ends. “Our hope for the long-term relationships is that the mentors can be college references, can help the girls network in the future, and to set up the girls to have those women as professional resources throughout their lives,” Chambers says.

Ask Girls Inc. of Northwest Oregon for more information. 4800 SW Macadam Avenue, Suite 309, Portland, OR 97239; Phone: (503) 230-0054; Fax: (503) 230-0057; Email:

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