2. Early lessons learnt or reinforced in setting up a youth mentoring program

There have been many lessons learnt on the journey thus far. Perhaps it would be helpful to list a few of these:

  • Make sure the program is internationally credible, which requires a Policies and Procedures Manual. There are some good examples of these on internationally credible youth mentoring websites.
  • Develop a budget and have a plan as to how the program will roll out. We have a budget plan until 2011, which now requires further work.
  • Develop the programme slowly. Don’t try to make it too big too fast. A quality program will take time to develop. I am already into my third rewrite of the Policies and Procedures Manual and we are only just getting the mentor/mentee matches under way 🙂
  • Think about evaluation all the time. I record ‘every’ inquiry about the program and also know how most of the people contacting me have heard about the program. I evaluate the mentor training, the mentee training and the mentor/mentee matching session – more about those later.
  • Keep building partnerships and networks. I am keen to develop partnerships with churches for volunteer mentors, as I sense that’s an untapped area and there are some wonderful people in those communities who might well take up the offer to obtain mentoring experience.
  • Make the training free wherever possible – after all, the mentors are volunteering their time. We have the school paying a small amount for each participating student and this covers most of the mentor’s training accreditation fee. We cover the difference from the GR8 MATES budget.
  • Make sure every potential mentor attends the training. I had one or two who were working in tertiary institutions who thought they did not need the training. I told them if they were unwilling or unable to participate in the training, they would not be able to participate in this particular program. It lets people know we are not desperate for mentors, but would prefer to have those who want to commit to all aspects of the program – that is clearly spelt out in the Application Pack.
  • For a school-based program, the Principal and Senior Management must get behind the program. I won’t run a program unless I have sat with the Principal, discussed the program and received his/her support. I am also developing a short School Contract which participating school Principals will have to sign before we launch the program in their school. I think this adds to the quality of the program.
  • Identify the School Coordinator at the earliest opportunity. Teachers are busy people. I would love for the School Coordinator to attend the mentor training, though I know I can’t enforce this if I want to see the program succeed. I also offer open invitations for the school to allow a number of teachers to attend the training free of charge, though they will only receive a Certificate of Attendance, not the full accreditation. More on that later.
  • Have a clear mentor screening process in place and enforce it – we want that commitment from the mentors.
  • Have a supportive group of people around you as you set the program up. I am looking to have a Mentor Sub-Committee of our Board in place by early 2008, their role to focus only on the development of the GR8 MATES mentoring program – more on that later.
  • Don’t quit!! There were times I wondered if I was moving too fast, when all of a sudden things came together and I was ready to pull together an orientation session.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek assistance and advice from people who have journeyed before, networks in different corners of the world. I have the privilege of knowing that I can contact people in various countries and ask for their advice, any resources on a specific topic etc. etc. I have been a member of Peer Resources (Canada) for a number of years now and regularly visit Mentor Exchange Listserv to read what people are doing, writing about etc. (National Mentoring Center) ……… And I do keep researching, reading and looking for fresh ideas, learning from the experiences of others etc. There is a wealth of knowledge out there and most people I have communicated with have been only too willing to share their ideas, thoughts etc. with me.
  • Once potential mentors are on board, keep them interested. I send out a very brief email, with a mentoring thought included, each week, as I want all mentors to know that I value their commitment to the program and want to keep them motivated and inspired for the mentoring journey ahead.
  • Market wherever you can – word of mouth is hugely important; churches; media; school newsletters; radio; tertiary institution intranets. I didn’t use all of these this time around, but I am aware of different strategies – and spend money on a great brochure (A4 folded flyer), as this shows professionalism. If you have too many glossy brochures etc., people might think you are flush with cash 🙂 , so be careful you don’t go over the top. I also had local Chambers of Commerce advertising through their E-Newsletters, as well as a Rotarian sharing the news of this new program. Even if I didn’t get great returns from all of these strategies, I am also trying to increase the awareness about the GR8 MATES program for potential future grrowth.
  • Once you sense you have enough mentors to get things moving, go for it. Once I had 10 potential mentors I called the orientation meeting and more joined in the meantime.
  • Keep developing a website with key information for mentors – we are still in the process of developing this within my organisation and that’s okay.
  • Enough for now ….