Make a difference through youth mentoring

So, you want to be a mentor? Explore how to easily find a program and get involved.

Who mentored you? Most adults and teens can think of a number of people who made a difference in their lives. Informal mentors include coaches, teachers, neighbors and youth group leaders. These individuals provide guidance, encouragement and a listening ear. Unfortunately, in today’s society youth are less likely to find these informal mentors, and formal mentoring programs are needed to fill the void. Successful mentoring efforts rely on volunteers to serve as mentors. Thousands of young people are waiting for a mentor. Can you help?

How do you know if you are qualified to mentor? Every program has different requirements. Mentors are caring individuals who are willing to spend time and develop a supportive relationship with a young person. They are not expected to be perfect. Part of being a good role model is showing a young person how to deal with the unavoidable ups and downs of life. Based on the program goals, some programs may look for people from a specific career, geographic location or gender. Chances are high that there is a perfect program for you.

The first thing to do is to think about the type of volunteer experience you are looking for. There are a variety of programs out there and knowing your interest will help you find the right program for you.

First, mentoring programs are often described as community-based or site-based. Community-based programs do not have a set meeting place. The mentor usually picks the young person up from their home and their visits take place at mutually agreed upon places like a movie theater, park or coffee shop. Site-based (sometimes called “school-based”) programs take place at a location like a school or neighborhood center where mentors and youth meet at the same location weekly. These programs often have staff on-hand at visits.

There are multiple types of mentoring and programs may use one or more of these models. One-on-one mentoring is the model that many people recognize. This is when child and one young person are matched together. Group mentoring matches up to four young people with a mentor and the group meets together. Peer mentoring involves older youth serving as a mentor for younger youth- perhaps a high school student mentoring a middle or elementary school student. E-mentoring is the newest mentoring model. E-mentoring relationships take place through virtual communication including email or websites.

To begin your search, visit MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. On the homepage there is a tool where you enter your zip code and will be directed to programs near you. Each organization that is listed provides an overview of the type of mentoring that is offered, ages served and location. By clicking on the program name you can learn more about the organization. As you look through the list, remember your volunteer interests.

So, how do you know which one to pick? Call or email the program and ask questions and check out their website. High quality programs will have some policies in place to ensure your safety and the safety of youth.

The second article in this two part series, “Becoming a mentor: How to select a mentoring program” shares best practices to look for in your search for the right program for you.

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