The Mentoring Movement Back »

Written by Andrea Knox, former SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Development & Resiliency Field Specialist.

“Thank You. For being a teacher. For being a listener. For being a friend. And most importantly for being there.” –

“Be someone who matters to someone who matters.” –

January is National Mentoring Month, a time to celebrate mentoring and the positive difference it can make in the life of a young person. A new report titled The Mentor Effect shows that mentoring improves academic, social and economic outlooks for youth which in turn benefit communities as well. Such great outcomes merit taking a closer look into what mentoring is, the characteristics present for positive outcomes to abound, and how we can be part of the mentoring movement.

The Mentoring Effect

The Mentoring Effect: Young People’s Perspectives on the Outcomes and Availability of Mentoring is an exciting new report based on the first national survey of 1,109 young people age 18-21 on the topic of informal and formal mentoring. The following are some results shared through the report.

  • At-risk young adults who had a mentor…
    • are more likely to aspire to enroll in and graduate from college than those who did not have a mentor (76 percent versus 56 percent).
    • are more likely to be enrolled in college than those who did not have a mentor (45 percent versus 29 percent).
    • are more likely to report participating regularly in sports or extracurricular activities than those who did not have a mentor (67 percent versus 37 percent).
    • At-risk young adults who had a mentor are more likely to hold a leadership position in a club, sports team, or another group than those who did not have a mentor (51 percent versus 22).
    • At-risk young adults who had a mentor are more likely to volunteer regularly in their communities than those who did not have a mentor (48 percent versus 27).
  • Youth report that formal mentoring programs provide a variety of benefits, and most commonly offer that they receive advice about school, get help with school issues and/or schoolwork. They also make reference to receiving help to address life problems, assistance in getting a job, choosing a career and getting into college – though these benefits were less commonly reported.
  • Youth in informal mentoring relationships commonly offer that their mentors provided developmental, more than academic, support. These mentors conveyed advice and encouragement to help them make good decisions, taught young adults how to make the right decisions and follow the right path and become motivated.

Who is a mentor?

A mentor is someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person. (In this article we will focus on the mentoring of youth.) Mentors provide guidance, support and encouragement to help foster positive and healthy development over time. Michigan State University Extension gives the following descriptions of a mentor.

A mentor is…

  • A friend: A mentor has time to listen and give thoughtful, caring advice and assistance. He or she is someone who helps build self-esteem of young people. A friend realizes that time is needed to build a relationship; especially if the youth’s past relationships have not been stable ones.
  • A role model: A mentor is someone who has had successful life experiences and who is willing to share them. Modeling positive actions can come in many forms. Some can be as basic as making a craft, playing a sport or washing the car. Others can be less tangible, but just as if not more important. These might include controlling anger, using good manners, or directing one’s energy in a positive direction.
  • A link to the community: A mentor should be knowledgeable about the community and be willing to look into any information that is unknown to him or her. He or she can teach the young person how to access local resources.

Types of Mentoring

  • Informal/Unstructured: In this type of mentoring an adult is present in a young person’s life and they naturally develop a mentoring relationship. The adult might be a neighbor, teacher, friend of the family, or non-immediate family member.
  • Formal/Structured: In this type of mentoring an organization formally matches an adult with a young person. The two develop a healthy relationship through structured, regular meeting times and activities. Big Brothers Big Sisters is a common formal mentoring program.

The Need for Mentors

The occurrence of mentoring relationships is growing due to the development of formal programs. However, The Mentoring Effect report shows a great need still exists through the following statistics.

  • One in three young people overall (34 percent) and even more at-risk youth (37 percent) report they never had an adult mentor of any kind (naturally occurring or structured) while they were growing up.
  • Nationwide, that means today approximately 16 million youth, including 9 million at-risk youth, will reach age 19 without ever having a mentor.
  • Youth who struggled with attendance, behavior, and course performance are 10 percentage points less likely to have an informal mentor than those without these risks (57 percent versus 67 percent).Four in five (79 percent) youth with these off-track indicators do not have a structured mentor.

Become Part of the Mentoring Movement

There are many ways to become involved in the mentoring movement and make a difference in your local community. Seek out organizations in your community involved with mentoring. There may be organizations such as schools, churches, or afterschool programs with formal mentoring opportunities already established. Become involved with the 4-H program. 4-H provides many volunteer opportunities for caring adults to be involved. Through trained volunteers, 4-H provides safe, supportive and nurturing environments for youth to develop positively. 4-H volunteers often become mentors to youth participants.

More Information

For more information on mentoring, visit the following websites referenced in this article:

  • Published by the National Mentoring Partnership, covers issues on youth mentoring.
  • Michigan State University 4-H Youth Mentoring: Created by Michigan State University Extension. This site provides a wealth of information on youth mentoring as well as curriculum available for establishing mentoring programs and training mentors.
  • National Mentoring Month: Created by the Harvard School of Public Health and The National Mentoring Partnership. It focuses attention on the need for mentors, as well as how each of us can work together to increase the number of mentors and positive outcomes for young people.
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