Everyone benefits from award-winning mentoring programs

Macomb County 4-H Youth Development, in partnership with the Michigan Community Service Commission and Learn and Serve America, has participated in the Michigan 4-H Learn and Serve Teen Mentors program since 2006.

Macomb County 4-H Youth Development, in partnership with the Michigan Community Service Commission and Learn and Serve America, has participated in the Michigan 4-H Learn and Serve Teen Mentors program since 2006. The three-year project helps young people who serve as mentors to acquire leadership and communications skills. The program was awarded the 2009 NACO (National Association of Counties) Award in recognition of an effective and innovative program that contributes to and enhances county government in the United States.

In Macomb County, the program matches high school youth with younger students in one-on-one mentoring relationships to provide guidance and support for the children. Through this special relationship, teen mentors provide advice and support and serve as role models for younger people who need help. A teen mentor can also simply be someone for a younger student to hang out with. Through formal mentor training and support provided by 4-H Youth Development staff members, mentors develop leadership and communications skills and commit to community service and civic involvement while helping the mentees. The objectives of the program include:

  • The number of mentors to be paired with disadvantaged youth will Increase.
  • Teen mentors will be provided with learning experiences in social development, citizenship and leadership.
  • Mentors and mentees will develop an awareness of diverse cultures.
  • Mentors and mentees will develop conflict-resolution, communications and decision-making skills.
  • Youth will develop healthy lifestyles.

MSUE contracted with an independent research firm, RMC Research Corporation, to evaluate the teen mentor program for the 2007–2008 year (results from the 2008–2009 survey will be available in the fall of 2009). Surveys and telephone interviews were used to evaluate progress toward meeting project goals.
Highlights of the evaluation are:

  • Teen mentor participants demonstrated significant increases over time on measures of civic dispositions, peer/mentee relationships, community behaviors and prosocial behaviors.
  • All of the respondents enjoyed working on the 4-H peer mentoring activities and felt they had a positive influence on their mentees.
  • Nearly 90 percent of respondents indicated that they liked conducting the activities, liked helping others who were in need and thought that the mentoring was worthwhile.
  • More than 80 percent of teen mentors rated themselves highly on being persuasive and being thought of by peers and mentees as  good listeners.
  • All of the teen mentors indicated that they knew what was expected of them as mentors, and almost every respondent reported knowing how to solve problems and how to set boundaries with mentees.

When asked about the impact of their mentoring experience on themselves, mentors reported that they improved their communication skills with younger children and learned how to be patient and responsible. Some mentioned they learned how to be role models and how to provide leadership for younger children, while others commented that they learned to be more open-minded about people with different backgrounds. Several teens reported that they became more confident and less shy.

Survey participants were also asked about the impact of the program on their mentees. Most often, participants suggested that the experience gave the younger children someone to look up to and someone to be there for them. Younger children were more able to talk to teens and develop trust in other people. Some children learned how to deal with inappropriate behavioral situations in a more positive way. Several teen mentors reported that it gave the younger children an opportunity to participate in fun activities.

The Michigan 4-H Learn and Serve Teen Mentors project is the first teen mentoring program in the county to focus on service learning and leadership for mentors. Mentors earned satisfaction from knowing that they helped their young friends to develop strong relationships with older peers, learn life skills and improve in some academic subjects. The youth being mentored also received a variety of rewards. These ranged from immediate benefits including higher grades and positive feedback from teachers, parents and friends to long-term benefits such as greater self-confidence, stronger communication skills and the strength to resist peer pressure – all of which will make them more likely to become productive, happy adults and assets to their communities.

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