Who should get a mentor?

Mentoring programs are not the answer for every child. How do you know which children will benefit most?

Every person can benefit from the support of a mentor. Mentors are caring role models that provide support and guidance. Some people are mentor magnets and seem to attract mentors naturally throughout life. Formal mentoring programs are designed to engage youth who are less likely to find a mentor on their own. While mentoring offers some great rewards to participants and volunteers, not every young person will benefit from a formal mentoring program. Michigan State University Extension finds that mentoring programs that take time to select youth who are most likely to benefit from the program see the best results.

Who can benefit from formal mentoring?

  • Youth who are part of the target population. Each mentoring program has a different goal. Look at the program goal and target youth population when choosing a program. For instance, a young person who is already excelling in school may not be a good fit for a program where the goal is to improve academic performance.
  • Youth who can attend consistently for the duration of the program. Mentoring is a relationship-based program model. To build a relationship, there needs to be regular interaction between the mentor and mentee over a sustained period. This usually means a full calendar or school year. Young people who cannot commit to the full program term rarely see the desired outcomes and may take a slot in the program that could have been used by someone else. Determine if sports or other activities will conflict with participation—not just now, but throughout the course of the program.
  • Youth who have moderate risk factors. Most mentoring programs and mentors do not have the resources or experience to work with the highest risk youth. Mentoring works best when young people can benefit from an additional layer of support, meaning they already have some assets, resources or relationships and mentoring is complimenting what already exists.
  • Youth who want a mentor. Mentoring requires youth buy-in. If a young person is not interested in having a mentor, it is highly unlikely they will develop a mentoring relationship. They may come to the program, but only the young person can determine if they will open themselves up to a mentoring relationship.

While not all youth are a good fit for formal mentoring programs, there are great youth development programs for all youth. Organizations like Michigan 4-H have options ranging from mentoring to clubs to camping and more. Finding the right fit is the best way to make the difference you hope to make. 

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