Engage youth to recruit new mentors

Many young people spend long periods of time on mentoring program waiting lists due to a lack of available mentors to fill the need. Youth initiated mentoring can help many of these young people find mentors more quickly and lead to greater impact.

Very few mentoring programs find success in recruiting enough mentors to meet the needs of all the young people interested in the program. Traditionally, program staff recruit by presenting to various community groups and advertising the need for mentors in a variety of ways. Some programs also successfully use current and past mentors to recruit new volunteers as well. But there is another important resource that is frequently forgotten when it comes to mentor recruitment — our youth.

How can youth recruit mentors? In 2013, Schwartz, Rhodes, Spencer and Grossman explored the idea of youth initiated mentoring and their research provides practical ideas for any mentoring program. In youth initiated mentoring, the young people waiting for a mentor are asked to identify one or multiple adults who they admire and would like as a mentor. This could be a neighbor, someone who works at the school, a family friend or any adult the young person is drawn to. If the youth is struggling in identifying a potential mentor, program staff can assist the youth by asking questions.

After one or more potential mentors have been identified, the program can then reach out to the person in question to explain they were identified and what the program entails. Not all adults can make the commitment, but imagine how much more likely a person is to say yes when they were selected by a young person they know. Often times, this opportunity offers an avenue to formalize an existing relationship while providing training and support to the new volunteer. However, programs utilizing this method need to ensure young people do not feel rejected if the person they identify says no. Let them know ahead of time that not all adults can meet the program requirements; explaining the various requirements will help to soften the blow if someone says no.

Not surprisingly, youth who assist in selecting their mentor often have longer lasting relationships with the mentor and longer lasting relationships lead to increased youth outcomes. Where most programs require a one year commitment, a program that used youth initiated mentoring found 74 percent of youth who helped to identify their own mentor were still together at 21 months and 56 percent were still in contact at 38 months.

Michigan State University Extension believes every young person needs multiple mentors in their lives. Youth initiated mentoring is a tool mentoring programs can use to help find additional mentors and match more young people with a caring adult.

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