Mentoring youth in rural communities

There are unique challenges and opportunities when mentoring youth in rural communities. How can mentors navigate the challenges?

Mentoring looks a little different from community to community. In rural areas, mentors often find that some of the things they enjoy most about rural living can become challenges in mentoring relationships. With some creativity, one can navigate the difficulties and enjoy all the benefits mentoring provides to both the mentor and mentee.

The biggest challenge rural mentors face is often travel. Due to smaller populations, rural mentors are sometimes matched with youth who live further away from their home compared to mentors in other communities. This can become challenging when winter weather arrives. Snow removal typically starts on the busiest roads before reaching the more isolated areas, increasing the chances that a mentor or mentee will be snowed in. For this reason, rural mentors should be prepared for some missed visits as travel time or road conditions are going to be an issue at one point or another. Mentors can prepare their mentee for this ahead of time by talking about the reasons a visit might be cancelled. Then when visits are cancelled, try to connect in a way that works for both parties.

Other challenges that some rural mentors cite is difficultiy finding things to do week to week. Urban and suburban areas often have businesses that are open throughout the evening like movie theaters, coffee shops, restaurants, gyms and more. In rural areas, businesses may close earlier or be too far away. So what can be done? Consider the unique resources in the community. Local farmers may allow visits with the animals. In the winter, consider cross country skiing, ice skating or other outdoor activities. There are also things one can do anywhere such as photography and crafts. In addition, non-profit organizations often have volunteer needs that can be done together. This might include making simple fleece blankets, writing letters to military members, stuffing envelopes or making simple toys for animal shelters. Keep an eye on community calendars to learn about free events- it is suprising what can be found!

Finally, ask the mentee! Mentors often feel pressured to plan each visit. Michigan State University Extension believes that youth should be active participants in the match and often have great ideas about what to do. With a little creativity, mentors can find success in any community.

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