Benefits of mentoring programs

March 4, 2013
Decreasing drop-outs. Increasing school attendance and academic success. Decreasing drug and alcohol use. Increasing trust, report and building quality relationships. These are all things that being involved in an evidence-based mentoring program can do. As public safety professionals, we make great models and can use our time to make a difference in the lives of youth in our communities.

January is National Mentoring Month. I know it’s February (almost March), so why am I mentioning it now? Because along with numerous organizations, including the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS), as well as community organizations like the Community Corrections Improvement Association (CCIA) and the National Association of Police Athletic/Activities Leagues, INC (PAL), I believe mentoring is a fundamental way for public safety professionals to make a difference and increase juvenile delinquency prevention methods on a daily basis, both on the clock and off.

What is a Mentor?

The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program defines a mentor as, “a person or a friend who guides a less experienced person by building trust and modeling positive behaviors.” A mentor is someone who takes the time to connect with a youth and engage in a high-quality relationship. This can be on an individual basis or in a group.  The mentor must be dependable, engaged, authentic and tuned into the mentee’s needs. The most important thing is that the mentor be a responsible adult that cares. This describes so many public safety professionals making us ideal mentors.

What are the Benefits?

Research has shown that youth involved in a mentoring program gain numerous benefits. Having an adult who cares and helps him or her make choices in the difficult task of maturing, makes a difference. According to Mentor:

  • Students who meet regularly with their mentors are 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school and 37% less likely to skip a class (Public/Private Ventures study of Big Brothers/Big Sisters)
  • Mentoring decreases the chances a youth will drop out of school and increases the chance a mentee will to on to higher education
  • Mentors help improve a young person’s self esteem and provide support for students trying new behaviors
  • Youth who meet regularly with their mentors are 46% less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs and 27% less likely to start drinking (Public/Private Ventures)
  • Mentors provide teens with a valuable place to spend their free time
  • Mentors can use their personal contacts to help young people meet industry professionals, find internships and locate job possibilities
  • Mentoring promotes positive social attitudes and relationships.

The benefits are numerous for youth involved in mentorship programs and the benefits don’t stop with the youth. Mentors receive benefits as well. Many public safety professionals entered this field because they wanted to help people and make a difference. Constantly dealing with the negative end of juvenile behavior can get frustrating especially when so often we say to ourselves, “If only that child had someone to look up to. Someone to guide them and show them ways of improving themselves and increasing their chances of being a valuable member of society.” That someone is me and that someone is you. The benefit is immeasurable when we see a child become successful partially because we’ve chosen to spend some time throwing a ball around with them, or helping with homework or teaching them to knit or write or take a wicked slap shot. Everyone has talents to share, but what’s most important is just being a reliable, trusted adult they can look up to.

Finding a Good Program

When choosing an organization to affiliate with, the most important thing is to find one that has a mentoring program that is evidence-based. Time is valuable and it’s imperative to know that you are not wasting yours or the mentee’s. Mentor, the National Mentoring Partnership, recently revised their guide, “Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring™”. The guide outlines six evidence-based standards critical to effective mentoring program operation: recruitment, screening, training, matching, monitoring and support and closure. Meeting these six standards increases a programs ability to provide high-quality mentoring and in the bigger picture, positive youth development. If you do not already have a evidence-based program in your community or through your department, Mentor provides a list of mentoring partnerships by state making it easier to find a good program to get involved in.

Do You Have What it Takes to be a Mentor?

Do you have intellectual curiosity? Do you have compassion for others? Do you have determination to succeed? Can you model these traits to a youth? Then you have what it takes to be a successful mentor and help a youth thrive according to CNCS. Commitment is essential. Numerous duration studies have shown that longer-term mentoring relationships have more benefits associated with them than shorter-term. This makes sense since it takes time to build trust and report. Committing yourself to at least a year (many programs require this) will increase benefits. Frequent, regular contact is also important for the same reasons as duration. Close relationships occur by engaging in shared activities and providing ongoing social and emotional support. With the advent of new ways to communicate such as SKYPE, people are able to be in contact in a myriad of non-traditional ways.

Although being involved as a mentor to a specific youth or group of youths is important, it’s also good to remember that as public safety professionals we have the chance to influence children on a daily basis. Since I’ve been training for the 2013 Scott Firefighter Stair Climb, I’m often at my gym in gear. About a week ago, I was putting on my turn-outs in the locker room when I noticed a small girl watching me from a few lockers over. Her mother noticed she was staring and asked her, “Do you know what she is? She’s a fire fighter.” I stopped messing with my gear long enough to look over at her. I smiled. She smiled. Maybe she’ll be a fire fighter some day.

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