Urban Youth Mentoring

Resources for the urban pastor and community leader published by Emmanuel Gospel Center, Boston    Emmanuel Research Review reprint   Issue No. 41 — September/October 2008

Resources for the urban pastor and community leader published by Emmanuel Gospel Center, Boston

Emmanuel Research Review reprint
Issue No. 41 — September/October 2008

Urban Youth Mentoring

Introduced by Brian Corcoran, Managing Editor, Emmanuel Research Review

The importance of mentoring youth has been identified in numerous studies which collectively establish the fact that the presence of a caring adult in the life of a youth is one of the key factors in influencing a child’s behavior. Therefore, in addition to parenting, mentoring youth in an urban context provides a highly strategic social-spiritual opportunity to shape future generations and address broader societal issues, including youth violence.

In this issue, reprinted from 2008, Rudy Mitchell, Senior Researcher, summarizes his research findings regarding various practical aspects on mentoring youth in an urban context. Rudy’s research draws from both secular and faith-based sources regarding preparation, planning, recruiting, screening, training, matching, support, monitoring, closure, and evaluation of youth mentoring programs. Also included is a selected resource list that provides additional information and examples.

Urban Youth Mentoring

by Rudy Mitchell, Senior Researcher, EGC

Mentoring, in combination with other prevention and intervention strategies, can make a significant contribution to reducing youth violence and delinquency. Research has shown that “the presence of a positive adult role model to supervise and guide a child’s behavior is a key protective factor against violence.”[1]

With careful planning; screening, training, and monitoring of volunteers; and sustained, long-term relationships by the mentors, the lives of at-risk youth can be changed. Christians can be involved by developing faith-based mentoring programs and by serving as mentors in existing programs. In either role they should make good use of the research and resources available in the general field of mentoring.

Preparation and Planning for a New Program

Starting a new mentoring program, even within an established organization, requires careful planning and design. It is important to have the support and active involvement of a board, either existing or newly created.

If you are working in an organization with an existing board, it is still valuable to have a separate advisory committee for the mentoring program.[2] These advisory groups can give guidance on how the initiative will fit in with other programs in the organization and community.

Another early planning step is to assess the needs of youth, survey the services of existing programs, and research the assets of the community. From this research, you can define what type of mentoring services to offer, what specific groups to focus on, and what outcomes may be most needed. One planning tool that can be helpful in defining outcomes is the Logic Model approach.[3]

Other aspects of planning are preparing training materials, developing policies, budgeting/fundraising, and planning record keeping. One must anticipate the need for adequate staffing in addition to recruiting the mentors.

It is important not to underestimate how much support, supervision, and counseling that staff may need to provide. Additional support and resources can be leveraged through collaborative partnerships with other community organizations, with schools, and with businesses.

Recruiting and Screening

When recruiting mentors, it is critical to find individuals who are willing and able to make long-term commitments and who will be dependable and consistent in meeting regularly with the mentee. Research has shown that when relationships break off after a short time, the result may be negative, not just neutral.[4]

During recruitment it is important to clearly present the expected time commitment and frequency of meetings with the mentees, as well as the overall expected duration of the mentoring relationship. Typically mentors are expected to meet with mentees at least four hours a month for one year (or one school year at school-based sites).[5] While the commitments need to be made clear when recruiting participants, the benefits also need to be highlighted.

Mentors should enjoy being with youth, be enthusiastic about life, and be good role models who can inspire youth. Good mentors also should be honest, caring, outgoing, resilient, and empathetic. Mentors will need to be open minded, non-judgmental, and good listeners, not seeking to always direct the agenda and activities.

Of course, mentors need to be carefully screened to be aware of past substance abuse problems, child abuse or molestation problems, criminal convictions, and mental problems. The essential parts of the screening process include a written application, an interview, several references (personal, employer), and criminal background checks (including sex offender and child abuse registries).[6] Some offenses would automatically disqualify a potential mentor, while other past events may raise red flags, but call for good judgment and general guidelines.

For programs not meeting at a fixed site, a home visit is recommended. In the screening process, it is valuable to learn about the motivations of potential mentors to make sure they are not just trying to fill their own unmet needs.

Potential mentors who are long-term members of a congregation and well known by the program staff can move through the approval process somewhat faster, although they still should be evaluated carefully and objectively using the essential and standard process.[7]

Training Mentors

Orientation of mentors can include a presentation of the programs goals, history, and policies. Benefits and hoped for outcomes can be described in ways that don’t generate unrealistic expectations. Orientation can also cover the general nature of the mentoring process.

It is valuable to have good printed literature on the program available at this time. Orientation is often used to recruit and introduce people to a mentoring program before they get involved.

Effective mentoring programs have good mentor training prior to establishing matches and have ongoing training or support. Training can cover communication skills, the stages of a mentoring relationship and how to relate to the mentee’s family. In the first stage of starting a match, the pair may need help in strategies for building trust and rapport, or suggestions for helpful activities.

Young people go through developmental stages which mentors need to be familiar with. Mentoring and other supportive services can be seen as valuable contributors to the overall youth development process. The training can also help mentors with cross-cultural and inter-generational understanding and communication.

Various types of problem situations and needs in the mentee’s life and in the mentoring relationship can be covered in preliminary and ongoing training. Mentors can also become knowledgeable of the social services which are available to help with potential problems.

Training can include ways to guide youth in setting goals, discovering their talents, and making decisions. Growing in these and other life skills, can build self-esteem, especially when appreciated and commended by mentors. It is important for mentors to understand current youth culture and the issues facing youth in the local community.

Some youth may experience emotional problems, and therefore, mentors may need some training in basic counseling skills and knowing when to make suggested referrals. During the training sessions, program policies and responsibilities should be reviewed, including regular reporting and child abuse reporting requirements. Programs with an academic focus may want to include a session on effective tutoring methods.

It is important to have a separate training session for the mentees as well. This will help them understand mentoring, what to expect of their mentor, and give practical suggestions on communication and activities.

Making Matches

The mentoring program needs to develop a weighted list of criteria for matching youth with mentors, criteria that correspond to the program’s priorities. While various criteria can be important, often the general quality of being an understanding listener turns out to make the most difference in developing a relationship.[8]

Basic criteria that can be critical include compatible time schedules and geographic proximity. If the mentoring involves social activities, it can be helpful to have common interests, hobbies, or recreational activities.

In more specialized programs, it may be necessary to match a youth who has certain career interests or academic needs with a mentor from that career field or academic skill set. Other criteria often considered in making matches are gender, language, race, cultural background, and life experiences.

It is also valuable to consider personality and temperament in making a match. Some complex personal qualities may be best sensed by intuition. Depending on the goals and values of the program, some criteria should be weighted more heavily than others.

The parents of the youth are generally given a voice in the process of choosing and approving a mentor. In any case written parental permission for general participation is necessary. Programs can also consider input and preferences from mentees and mentors.

Once the match is decided, the program should arrange a formal meeting for introduction at the organizational site. This meeting can include some icebreakers or activities, and can include a group of newly matched pairs.

Typically the best initial foundation of a good relationship is trust and friendship rather than achieving goals and tasks. “Research has found that mentoring relationships that focus on trying to change the young person too quickly are less appealing to youth and less effective. Relationships focused on developing trust and friendship are almost always more beneficial.”[9] Thus the initial activities and focus should seek to foster communication, trust, and rapport, rather than just accomplish tasks.

Ongoing Support, Training, and Monitoring

Ongoing support is one of the most important elements in a successful mentoring program. Mentors should be contacted within two weeks of the beginning of the relationship.[10] Program staff should then continue to maintain regular, personal communication weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly with the mentors.

In order to give adequate support it is recommended that a 20 to 1 ratio be maintained between mentors and support staff.[11] These personal contacts can help intervene to clear up misunderstandings, provide insights regarding cultural differences, and give encouragement.

In addition to good communication, the program can arrange regular meetings of mentors for discussion of problems, sharing ideas, and giving recognition and appreciation. Some of these mentor meetings can include additional training on issues facing a number of the mentors or youth.

Experienced mentors can help in training newer mentors. Online support groups could also be used to share ideas, ask questions, and discuss issues. Support staff may occasionally need to work out a new match, if the original match has been given plenty of time and effort, but is just not working out.

Closure and Evaluation

The mentoring program needs to have flexible procedures and support services to handle the closure of a match. A mentoring relationship may end naturally as a school year ends, or when one of the pair moves away. However, it may also end because of problems, incompatibility, disinterest, or violation of rules.

Because of the variety of reasons relationships end, the program needs to tailor its approaches to giving closure and support to the youth, mentor, and the family. It is just as important for the match to have a good closure as to have a good beginning.

Exit interviews are often used in closing a relationship. These may involve the mentor and mentee together or separately. Generally there should be a meeting with the family as well. These meetings can be a constructive learning experience, as reasons for the termination are clarified and discussed in a positive way. The youth should be encouraged to share feelings about what went well and what could have been improved.

It is helpful for the mentor and mentee to share what they enjoyed most in the relationship. When the match ends because the mentor is no longer able to continue, it is especially important to reassure the youth that the ending is not due to anything he or she did. Where appropriate, the staff can discuss possible future matches in the current program, or elsewhere (if one participant is moving).

Exit interviews can also play a valuable role in evaluation. Program evaluation can be done by your own staff, using or adapting the many survey tools available,[12] or by an outside evaluator (possibly drawing on an university department or a grad student intern).

One can evaluate the effectiveness of various processes of implementing the overall program, but it is even more important to evaluate the goals and outcomes you have established for and with the youth. These outcomes can guide the choice of measures and data needed for evaluation.

Typically, a baseline of information should be gathered when youth begin, and then progress can be measured after the matches have been going at least six months to a year.[13] If possible, try to also get information on a comparable group which was not mentored. Data sources may include the youth, mentors, family, school records, teachers, and police.

Don’t assume your program was the only cause of any improvement. However, as you follow the guidelines for effective practices and work collaboratively with the youths’ families, other organizations serving youth, and the schools, you can expect to see a positive difference in the lives of young people.



1 Timothy N. Thornton., Carole A. Craf, Linda L. Dahlberg, Barbara S. Lynch, and Katie Baer, Youth Violence Prevention: A Sourcebook for Community Action (New York: Novinka Books, 2006), 150.

2 Michael Garringer and Pattti McRae, editors. Foundations of Successful Youth Mentoring, rev. ed. (Washington, D. C.: Hamilton Fish Institute and the National Mentoring Center, 2007), 8.

3 W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Logic Model Development Guide, http://www.wkkf.org/Pubs/Tools/Evaluation/Pub3669.pdf (14 Nov. 2008).

4 D.L. DuBois, B.E. Holloway, J.C. Valentine, and H. Cooper. “Effectiveness of Mentoring Programs for Youth: A Meta-Analytic Review.” American Journal of Community Psychology 30, no. 2 (April 2002):157-197.

5 National Mentoring Partnership, How to Build a Successful Mentoring Program Using the Elements of Effective Practice (Alexandria, Vir.: National Mentoring Partnership, 2005), 10.

6 Garringer and McRae, 29.

7 Shawn Bauldry, and Tracey A. Hartmann, The Promise and Challenge of Mentoring High-Risk Youth: Findings from the National Faith-Based Initiative (Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures, n.d.), 14-15.

8 Maureen A. Buckley and Sandra Hundley Zimmermann, Mentoring Children and Adolescents: A Guide to the Issues (Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 2003), 43.

9 Bauldry, and Hartmann, The Promise and Challenge of Mentoring High-Risk Youth, 20.

10 National Mentoring Partnership, How to Build a Successful Mentoring Program Using the Elements of Effective Practice, 105.

11 Timothy N. Thornton., et al, Youth Violence Prevention, 171.

12 National Mentoring Partnership, How to Build a Successful Mentoring Program Using the Elements of Effective Practice, 171-172. 13 Garringer and McRae, 58.

Resources and Links

Buckley, Maureen A., and Sandra Hundley Zimmerman. Mentoring Children and Adolescents: A Guide to the Issues. Contemporary Youth Issues. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 2003.

This is a practical and comprehensive handbook which includes sample mentor and mentee applications, a full sample grant proposal/program design, and detailed quality standards for effective programs. The authors provide an annotated list of print and non-print resources, as well as detailed information on state and national organizations and key people. Several chapters give an overview of practical aspects of formal mentoring programs and summarize facts and research studies.

Dortch, Thomas W., Jr., and The 100 Black Men of America, Inc. The Miracles of Mentoring: How to Encourage and Lead Future Generations. New York: Broadway Books, 2001.

Drury, K.W., editor. Successful Youth Mentoring: Twenty-four Practical Sessions to Impact Kid’s Lives. Loveland, Calif.: Group Publishing, 1998.

DuBois, D.L., B.E. Holloway, J.C. Valentine, and H. Cooper. “Effectiveness of Mentoring Programs for Youth: A Meta-Analytic Review.” American Journal of Community Psychology 30, no. 2 (April 2002):157-197.

The authors reviewed 55 research evaluations of mentoring programs. They found that disadvantaged and at-risk youth benefit most from mentoring. Significant positive effects depend on the use of best practices and developing strong relationships. Poorly implemented programs can have a negative effect on youth; therefore, it is important for programs to use effective methods of planning, implementation, and evaluation.

Dubois, David L., and Michael J. Karcher, editors. Handbook of Youth Mentoring. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 2005.

This is one of the most comprehensive recent works on the theory, research, and practice of mentoring youth. Under the section on theory and frameworks, Jean Rhodes presents a theoretical model of mentoring where relationships of mutuality, trust, and empathy promote social-emotional, cognitive, and identity development. For formal mentoring programs, the handbook gives useful material on developing and evaluating a program, and on recruiting and sustaining volunteers. In addition to covering various types of mentoring (natural, cross-age, intergenerational, e- mentoring), the book also considers mentoring in various contexts (schools, work, after-school, faith-based organizations, and international settings), and with specific groups (at-risk students, juvenile offenders, gifted youth, pregnant/parenting adolescents, abused youth, and youth with disabilities).

Freedman, Marc. The Kindness of Strangers: Adult Mentors, Urban Youth, and the New Voluntarism. Revised ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Over three hundred interviews were conducted to produce this important work on urban youth mentoring. It distills guidelines and principles for effective mentoring programs and gives overviews of some mentoring efforts around the country. While realistically looking at pitfalls and problems, the book offers a hopeful perspective on mentoring as one important part of the solution to youth violence and other problems.

Hall, Horace R. Mentoring Young Men of Color: Meeting the Needs of African American and Latino Students. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2006.

Hall advocates mentoring and other strategies to channel care and concern for young men to enable them to reach their potential despite the challenges they face.

National Mentoring Center—http://www.nwrel.org/mentoring/index.php

The National Mentoring Center (NMC) has been serving youth mentoring programs of all types since 1999. Originally created by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), the National Mentoring Center offers training, resources, and online information services to the entire mentoring field. The NMC now houses the LEARNS project, which provides training and technical assistance to mentoring projects supported by the Corporation for National and Community Service. The NMC also works in partnership with EMT Associates to manage the Mentoring Resource Center.

Foundations of Successful Youth Mentoring is the Center’s cornerstone resource for developing all types of youth mentoring programs across a variety of settings. It is a useful resource for start-up efforts and established programs alike. This 114 page guidebook is available free from the website, and covers all aspects of developing a mentoring program, with included charts and sample forms.

National Mentoring Partnership/MENTOR—www.mentoring.org

An advocate and resource for the expansion of quality mentoring initiatives nationwide. This networking organization builds and supports state mentoring partnerships, sponsors the National Mentoring Institute, develops resources like the Elements of Effective Practice, and encourages research and support for mentoring. The website makes available many great resources including:

Elements of Effective Practice, guidelines and detailed action steps developed by leading national authorities on mentoring. They were recently revised, taking into account solid research to help mentoring programs plan effective organizations that will nurture quality, enduring mentoring relationships. Available free at: http://www.mentoring.org/downloads/mentoring_411.pdf.

How to Build a Successful Mentoring Program Using the Elements of Effective Practice. While the previous resource provides a detailed outline, this handbook discusses in detail the considerations and methods of carrying out the steps needed to develop a quality mentoring program. It covers design and planning, managing, implementing, and evaluating the program. Many specific forms, handouts, lists, and guidelines are included, esp. on the CD. This 188 page “toolkit” handbook can be downloaded free at www.mentoring.org/eeptoolkit or purchased in print and CD format.

The Mass Mentoring Partnership (Mass Mentoring)—www.massmentors.org is the state partner of the National Mentoring partnership.

Rhodes, Jean. E. Stand By Me: The Risks and Rewards of Mentoring Today’s Youth. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Rhodes draws on her own research and also an analysis of research by Public Private Ventures to inform her well-written study. Well trained mentors who develop good, long-term mentoring relationships can make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth by improving their social skills, develop their thinking and academic skills through dialog, and by serving as advocates and role models. She also provides cautions about the risks of ineffective and damaging mentoring relationships.

Sipe, Cynthia L. Mentoring: A Synthesis of P/PV’s Research, 1988-1995. Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures, 1996. Available as a free download at: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org.

In addition to reviewing the major findings of Public/Private Ventures’ mentoring research, this synthesis summarizes ten different research reports of the period.

Thornton, T. N., C.A. Craf, L. L. Dahlberg, B.S. Lynch, and K. Baer. Youth Violence Prevention: A Sourcebook for Community Action. New York: Novinka Books, 2006. See pages 149-192.

One of the four major strategies to prevent youth violence covered in this sourcebook is mentoring. The material here is especially helpful because it reviews and summarizes a wide range of research and resources. It surveys community-based and site-based mentoring with reviews of research on Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Norwalk Mentor Program. It deals with staff and mentor recruiting and training principles and resources, goal setting, activities, and evaluation. The guide to books, research, training materials, and organizations offers many useful resources.

Find more youth mentoring resources at Culture and Youth Studies: http://cultureandyouth.org/mentoring/


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