Sustaining mentoring relationships through the summer months

Tips for maintaining school-based mentoring relationships throughout summer.

Long-term mentoring relationships result in the greatest youth outcomes. Unfortunately, many mentoring programs take place in school settings and when the school closes for summer, so does the mentoring space. This results in mentoring matches closing after spending nine months or less together. When matches stop meeting, young people can lose the progress they have made throughout the year. How can mentoring programs sustain these relationships during the summer?

Michigan State University Extension believes summer mentoring programming shouldn’t be an afterthought. Start planning early and communicate with youth, families and mentors about expectations from the start. Explain the commitment is for one year and summer programming will look a little different. Here are some tips to make it work.

  • Make plans to engage the whole match and not just the young people. Many programs find great success in planning field trips, but it is important to plan events at a time where mentors can join.
  • Break down the barriers! Is transportation an issue? If so, work to provided or coordinate transportation.
  • Stay connected. Utilize newsletters and social media to keep mentors, youth and parents connected to your program and aware of meeting dates and events.
  • Hold informal activities monthly to provide opportunities for matches to interact. If your program site isn’t open, try to find something in the same area or even gather on the playground. You may have more success if families are invited to join in some or all of these events.
  • Encourage matches to connect at community events like the county fair or a local festival.
  • Provide matches with tips for communicating via phone, email or letters. This could include fun “homework” like a worksheet with getting-to-know-you questions, a photo safari and sharing of pictures or exchanging journals each time they see each other.
  • Engage matches in fundraising and recruitment efforts. You probably spend a lot of time at volunteer recruitment events during the summer. You will be more successful and the youth will gain skills by interacting with community members.
  • Plan ahead for vacations. Youth and mentors are likely to vacation during the summer. Coordinate a time for participants to exchange addresses and encourage them to send a postcard while away.

Examine your program policies for match contact outside of the program. Some programs do not allow matches to meet outside of program-planned activities. In these cases, if summer programming is valued, you will need to find one or more sites for visits. Determine if matches will meet as frequently or if a reduced schedule will suffice.

Summer programming can be difficult, but with some planning, it can be a great addition to your school-based mentoring program.

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