Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Mentoring Gap

Youth today are growing up without positive one-to-one support and guidance from adults, yet we all know that this is exactly what they need in order to grow up to successfully.  Every successful adult can identify the role models and mentors who helped them navigate the challenges of childhood.  Without this critical support, youth fall prey to destructive cycles of poverty, failure, abuse, neglect, teen pregnancy, gang violence, substance abuse, truancy and juvenile delinquency.  Having a Big Brother or Big Sister has been proven in volumes of research to stop these cycles.  

A report* commissioned in 2013 by MENTOR, an organization dedicated to closing the mentoring gap for our nation’s youth, revealed that there are an estimated 9 million at –risk youth who will reach the age of 19 without ever having had a mentor.  The report also reveals that these youth are far less likely than their mentored counterparts to get the support they need to succeed in school and aspire to higher education.  

In contrast, results from surveys of youth mentored in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas program in 2013 show the following:

  •   93% of students expect to graduate from high school, and
  •   85% of students plan to attend college

These results are what spur our organization to grow the BBBS program to the point at which every child that needs or wants a Big Brother or Big Sister is able to get one immediately.  Core to our mission is an ability to recruit volunteers to serve as mentor “Bigs.”  We firmly believe that this community is filled with potential mentors ripe for recruitment, and that we can attract, screen, train, match and retain as many of these individuals as we need to work with at risk youth.  The problem, as we see it, is not a lack of volunteers, it is a lack in the expertise of volunteer recruitment.  We have this expertise.  Over the past several decades we have honed our recruitment techniques to the point that we bring in more volunteers than we can effectively process. 

The issue is properly screening, training and supervising these volunteers in order for them to serve as effective mentors. This requires a professional staff to ensure that all volunteers are fully vetted and trained before they are matched to a child. Further staff oversight is necessary once the volunteer has been matched to a child to provide guidance and support through the life of the match to both the volunteer and the child’s family. We need adequate funding to pay for a professional staff large enough to supervise all the volunteers on our wait list. We have the volunteers. What we need is the resources to match them to the kids. We firmly believe that with the help of our donors we can transform our community by ensuring that our youth are growing up with positive attention from adults.

 (“The Mentoring Effect: Young People’s Perspectives on the Outcomes and Availability of Mentoring,” a report for MENTOR, January 2014.)  

Thanks to Todd Hedley for helping me wordsmith this article for our annual report.