Becoming a mentor: How to select a mentoring program

When deciding what mentoring program to volunteer at, consider these tips to find a safe and quality program.

Choosing to volunteer for an organization is a big decision. Your time is important and you want it to matter. It is important to select an organization where you feel comfortable and receive the support you deserve. There are many mentoring organizations to choose from – how do you pick?

Researchers have developed some common best practices to guide mentoring programs in their efforts to create high-quality programs. Learning about the best practices and finding out if a program follows them is an excellent way to determine if you are comfortable with a program.

In Michigan, the Michigan Quality Program Standards for Youth Mentoring provides a checklist of criteria that can be used when looking into a particular program. If a program follows these standards, they are more likely to report the positive youth outcomes associated with mentoring. While all of the standards are important, there are a few program components that parents and potential mentors should pay particular attention to when selecting a program.

Mentor screening is vital to safety in any mentoring program. Yes, it takes time to go through an intensive screening process, but isn’t it worth it to know that you are associating yourself with a program that makes every effort to keep youth and volunteers safe? When investigating a program, look at the volunteer screening methods. These are often listed on a website or you can call and ask. Recommended screening procedures include an application, reference, criminal history and other background checks, and a face-to-face interview with the candidate. For community-based mentoring programs, a driving record check is often performed.

Next, look at the program’s mentor training and matching process. Youth and mentors receive the most benefit from mentoring when they develop a strong relationship. Mentors who receive training are more likely to have realistic expectations and the skills needed to develop this strong relationship. Close relationships also develop when the mentor and mentee have shared interests. When programs consider the interests and experiences of the young person and the mentor when matching, they are more likely to create a match that lasts.

Finally, pay attention to how the program will monitor matches. As a mentor, you will want to have regular interaction with the staff and know that staff members are also interacting with the young person and his parent. This process, known as monitoring and support, ensures that you receive any assistance you need when questions or concerns arise. Unsupported mentors often end the relationship early, which can cause harm to the young person and leave the mentor with an unsatisfied feeling.

Applying for a mentoring program can be a little intimidating. Keep in mind that your choice to mentor will make a difference in the life of a young person. Follow these tips and you are sure to find a high quality program that will provide you with a rewarding experience.

For information on what to expect when acting as a Michigan 4-H volunteer, see “Prospective volunteers.”

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