Mentoring: Practices that Work

Mentoring is an important strategy for helping youth who are in need of more positive relationships. But good outcomes only happen through quality relationships that last. To meet this challenge, organizations in Greater New Haven are providing the settings and resources for these relationships to take hold and thrive.

Game night at The Boys and Girls Club of New Haven

A good mentor helps a young person navigate challenges, develop a talent, and gain confidence. Some mentors are also teachers and guides along the road to mastering an art or discipline. Others make themselves available to listen and provide general support and advice.

Mentoring can be a successful strategy for helping at-risk youth who are in need of more positive adults in their lives. But good outcomes only happen through quality relationships that last. To meet this challenge, organizations in Greater New Haven are providing the settings and resources for these relationships to take hold and thrive.

The numbers:

Less than 20 percent of low-income New Haven residents responding to the 2015 DataHaven Community Wellbeing Survey said they strongly agreed that children and youth in their town have the positive role models they need.1

The Governor's Prevention Partnership estimates that 25% of New Haven youth would benefit from an additional caring adult in their lives, but only 12% were in a formal mentoring program.2

Benefits and Challenges

Mentoring programs hold great potential for helping young people, provided that the right supports are put in place. Youth with a range of risk profiles have shown improved outlooks on life, better relationships with others, and higher grades in school after connecting with mentors.3 One of the strongest benefits found by research is a drop in depressive symptoms.4

Mentoring relationships that last less than six months, however, can be harmful, particularly to young people living in unstable homes and in foster care.5 To create the best conditions for success, programs train and support their mentors and provide a comfortable environment for bonding between mentors and mentees. An assessment of a high-risk youth's specific challenges and needs, particularly in the area of mental health, is also an important best practice.6

With appropriate screening in place, programs can tailor the services to the unique needs of the youth and provide mentors with useful information about how to best support their mentees.

Creating the Conditions for Success

The Boys and Girls Club of New Haven is one of several youth programs statewide that is using mentoring to help youth involved in the juvenile justice system. As part of the Governor's Prevention Partnership , the club matches trained volunteer mentors with teenagers referred from the court support services division.

Carlos Collazo, director of program services and operation, says that club works to create the right conditions for a mentorship bond by first selling the young people on the programs and the space. "We set it up in a casual atmosphere," Collazo says. "We try to make it happen naturally. Our motto to the kids is, just come in. We explain that we have a safe place with caring professionals. Nothing is forced."

Once the young person feels comfortable at the clubhouse, the mentor is invited to be there at the same time. The two then get to know each other by doing something together like playing pool or another game.

Collazo requires the volunteer mentors to commit to one meeting a week for at least a year.

"As a mentor, you have to commit. You have to put yourself out there and be willing to listen. You can't come in with an agenda. You just have to want to make a difference."

The mentorships have helped many of the young people improve their attitudes toward school raise their grades. Collazo highlights one mentee who was in a gang when he started with the program and caused serious disruptions during Boys and Girls Club activities. He has since dropped out of the gang and his oppositional behavior has gone. He is now a counselor in training and spends most of his time volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club.

New Haven's Gang of Dads, also part of the Governor's Prevention Partnership, provides training sessions for men who want to be mentors.

"Mentoring is a label that is slapped on a lot of things without any standards of quality," says Todd Foster, Gang of Dads founder and Pastor of Church on the Rock.

Gang of Dads recruits Black men and pairs them with youth who are referred by the New Haven Juvenile Review Board, a discipline program that diverts first-time youth offenders from the criminal justice system.

"One of the problems when kids do not have dads around is that they grow up not knowing how to fix stuff," says Foster. "So we have master mechanics come in for a workshop on how to maintain your car. We teach the kids how to do things."

Children of Incarcerated Parents

New Haven's Believe In Me Empowerment Corp.

uses a reading program to mentor 40 -60 children who have been impacted by an incarcerated parent or family member. The Reading for Reasoning program pairs young participants with both adult and peer mentors as they read books together.

Ebony Walker, director of programs, says Believe in Me works because it engages the entire family, a strategy that is supported by research that shows mentoring children of incarcerated parents has better chances for success when the mentors interact with family members .7

"When you're in the community, like we are, you go to the grocery store and see the parent. That is big for us," says Walker.

Natural Mentors

Not all youth are suited for formal program-based mentoring. Children exposed early in life to traumatic events such as abandonment and abuse have difficulty forming trusting relationships with adults, and may have behavioral difficulties that make forming relationships with mentors challenging.8

For youth in foster care in particular, greater potential has been shown with natural mentors, the people who are part of the everyday fabric of a child's life, such as family friends, church members, and extended family members.9 A study of youth transitioning from foster care found that when natural mentors are available, willing to listen, share experiences, and provide guidance, the youth were more likely to display fewer depressive symptoms, and have greater satisfaction with life. When the mentor relationship lasted longer than a year, the youth were less likely to have been arrested at the age of 19.10 This research supports the need for programs that recruit and support natural mentors for youth in foster care.

Mentoring in Greater New Haven

What the Community Foundation is Doing

In 2012, The Community Foundation supported the Governor's Prevention Partnership's completion of a youth mentoring gap analysis specific to New Haven, in collaboration with the City of New Haven Youth Services.

Grantmaking has also supported many organizations that provide mentoring services including:

The Community Fund for Women and Girls also supports mentoring initiatives through grant funding to organizations including:
The Boys and Girls Club of New Haven, Higher Heights, Women of Power Network, and Dwight Hall at Yale.

Works Cited

1. DataHaven Community Wellbing Survey conducted by the Siena College Research Institute April – October 2015, 7.

2. Survey of New Haven mentoring programs. Governor's Prevention Partnership. 2012.

3. Herrera, DuBois, and Grossman. The Role of Risk, Mentoring Experiences and Outcomes for Youth with Varying Risk Profiles.

New York, NY: A Public/Private Ventures project distributed by MDRC, 2013.

4. ibid

5. Ahrens, Kym R., et al. "Youth in Foster Care With Adult Mentors During Adolescence Have Improved Adult Outcomes." Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, an. 8, 2008.

6. MENTOR, 3rd Edition, 2009. Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring. Alexandria, Va. MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership; Diamond, Sarah. Connecticut Juvenile Justice Mentoring Network Year One Evaluation Report. The Governor's Prevention Partnership. Hartford, CT, 2014.

7. Bilchik, J.D. Mentoring: A Promising Intervention for Children of Prisoners. Alexandria, Va. MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, 2007.

8. Zimmerman P. Building Intensive Relationships with At-Risk Children: The Research and Literature at a Glance. Report funded by the Children's Institute of Oregon, 2006.

9. Ahrens, Kym R., et al. "Youth in Foster Care With Adult Mentors During Adolescence Have Improved Adult Outcomes." Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, Jan. 8, 2008. Munson et al. A Steady presence in the midst of change: Nonkin natural mentors in the lives of older youth exiting foster care. Child Youth Serv. Rev, 32 (4)( 2010): 527-535.

10. Munson, M. and McMillen, J.C. Natural mentoring and psychosocial outcomes among older youth transitioning from foster care. Child Youth Services Review, 31 (1) (2009): 104-111.

© The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
Updated March 2017