clear What Does It Take To Start a Mentoring Program?

To be effective, a mentoring program requires training for potential mentors, careful matching of mentors and children being mentored, and ongoing support to maintain and improve the mentoring relationship. To meet these goals, your group should learn about and develop ties to organizations in your community that offer services or provide information that would be helpful for you and those you are mentoring.

Inform your mentors of available resources and encourage them to use them and recommend them to others as appropriate. In many areas, local Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations have set up a program called High School Bigs in which high school students volunteer to be Big Brothers or Big Sisters to elementary, middle, or junior high school students in their community. With about 100 High School Bigs programs already in place across the Nation, you're likely to find one in your area. Contact Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, listed in the Resources section, to find out how to link up with one of these efforts to take advantage of existing training, matching resources, and support services.

If you decide to start your own program, get in touch with national and local mentoring organizations -- such as The National Mentoring Partnership, listed in the Resources section -- to find out how they began and how they currently operate. Also contact national service organizations such as the Corporation for National Service and AmeriCorps, listed in the Resources section, for general advice and guidance on mentoring and a wide variety of other volunteer work. The IdeaList Web site (www.idealist) is another great source of information on mentoring -- listing 16,000 volunteer organizations and numerous books, organizations, and services that your volunteers may find useful.

When starting your mentoring program, decide what the minimum (weekly or monthly) time commitment for mentors should be. Include time required for training, meeting with the young person being mentored, following up on any issues that arise, attending sessions with other mentors, and learning about available resources. Emphasize to your volunteer mentors that they must not only serve as role models, but be able to provide sound advice and accurate information on issues ranging from schoolwork to family relationships to peer pressure. If tutoring will be part of your program, recognize that you will need to match the academic and interpersonal skills of the mentor with the educational needs of the youth being tutored. Obviously, personal compatibility is at the core of the match. You may have to assign pairs more than once before finding just the right match.

Next, consider where and how you will recruit or identify younger people to be mentored. A school's guidance office or a community day care or recreation center may be able to work with your program and supply names of students in need of support or guidance. Sometimes you can work with or "adopt" a single elementary, middle, or junior high school in your area and mentor students from that school only. In that case, you may be able to develop strong ongoing relationships with teachers, counselors, and administrators in the school and meet regularly in the school's cafeteria, auditorium, or classrooms. In addition, fewer transportation obstacles will exist when dealing with only one school. Having safe activities in convenient locations is essential.

Once you have decided whom you will be mentoring, talk with the parents or guardians of these children to secure their understanding of and commitment to your program. Explain how the mentoring process will work and the potential benefits to the children being mentored.

One of the most important steps in creating a mentoring program is training your volunteer mentors. To do so, think about the following questions:

bullet What kinds of activities are popular with the students you will be mentoring?
bullet How much help should mentors give with schoolwork?
bullet What should mentors do if they suspect a problem in the home of a child assigned to them?
bullet What do mentors do if a younger person says that he or she has been a victim of crime or has committed a crime? What if the child has experienced abuse or neglect?
bullet What can mentors do to influence their young friends' lives in a positive and lasting way?

The answers to these questions will help you create a framework for both your training program and your ongoing program activities. Spending time observing or working with an established mentoring program can also give you many good ideas.

Considering the complexities of organizing a mentoring program, you may want to work with a school counselor or a community group that can provide initial assistance with management and training. Starting the program with a small number of matched pairs is another good idea. As your program staff become more experienced and as interest grows, you can increase participation.

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Youth In Action Bulletin July 1999   black   Number 08