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

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

Are you involved in setting up a youth mentoring program? Are there days you feel overwhelmed?

I wrote down some thoughts when I was setting up from scratch the Gr8 Mates school-based youth mentoring program.There were ongoing lessons being learnt on the journey. What follows are some of the lessons I learnt:

  • 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. Gr8 Mates had a possible 5 year budget plan which was continually being revised as the program was being developed. It added credibility to the program when approaching potential donors.
  • Develop the program slowly. Don’t try to make it too big too fast. A quality program will take time to develop. I rewrote of the Policies and Procedures Manual within the first three to six months of launching the program.
  • Think about evaluation all the time. I recorded ‘every’ inquiry about the program and also knew how most of the people contacting me had heard about the program. I evaluated the mentor training, the mentee training and the mentor/mentee matching session.
  • Keep building partnerships and networks within the local and wider community eg, businesses; University of the 3rd Age; faith institutions; Sport Clubs and so on..
  • Make the training free wherever possible – after all, the mentors are volunteering their time. The host school contributed a small amount for each participating student and this covered most of the mentor’s training accreditation fee. We covered 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. It also bonds the group of mentors which enhances the mentoring journey experience for both the students and the mentors, as the latter learn how to trust one another and share thoughts, experiences and concerns.
  • For a school-based program, the Principal and Senior Management must get behind the program. I would not run a program unless I had sat with the Principal, discussed the program and received his/her support. I also developed a short School Contract which participating school Principals had to sign before we launched 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.
  • 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., people you can trust whose wisdom and insights can contribute significantly to the development of the program.
  • 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 had the privilege of knowing that I could 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 and regularly visit Mentoring websites to read what people are doing, writing about etc. ….. 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 all the 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 was 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 and continually reflect on the use of social media to both enhance a program and to give mentors and mentees updated information (after consultation with them) with regard to what should and should not be allowed.

About the author: Robin Cox has been a School Principal, sports coach to National Under 19 Level, Youth Symposium Organizer, developer of Youth Mentoring Programs in New Zealand and Australia, Churchill Fellow and author of books linked to youth mentoring, Peer Mentoring and the development of adolescents to become the best they can be. He has trained over 1,000 volunteer adult mentors, run workshops for teachers promoting the Spirit of Mentoring and personally mentored over 1,000 adolescents. Still an idealist, a cancer survivor of 50+ years, married with two adult children, Robin lives in Australia and shares a passion with anyone wanting to make a positive difference in the global community. You can see his short daily mentoring tips on Twitter @million2016coxy or on Facebook (where you are able to join a closed mentoring group) or contact him through his Mentoring Matters website