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Youth Mentor

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Learning to snowboard, flying a kite, carving pumpkins, collecting bugs.... There are a thousand ways mentors and mentees can spend time together. But building a trusting relationship is the one most important goal.

Youth mentors are adult volunteers who spend time with younger child mentees. Mentees are the younger people in the relationship who look to the mentors for guidance and support.

Youth mentors listen to their mentees and offer advice. Some of the children come from single parent families or low-income communities. Others are struggling in school or face problems at home. And they all benefit from a positive older role model.

"They have the benefit of seeing that adults can be really consistent. Adults are sometimes people who can be trusted," says Sarah Schreiber. She's the program coordinator for Youth Mentoring Connection, a mentoring organization in Los Angeles which works to help at-risk youth. "And then, ideally, the students are able to use the mentor as somebody they can confide in, and get resources and information from -- how to get a job, how to apply for college."

Youth mentoring organizations match mentors and mentees based on interests and personality types. Most organizations require mentors to be at least 18 or 19 years old. Typically, girls are matched with women and boys with men. However, many organizations have a shortage of male mentors, and a large number of young boys looking for older mentors. So, in some cases, boys are matched with female mentors.

Most mentors are asked to commit to the program for at least a year, and meet with their mentees regularly (once weekly or twice monthly).

Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of America has youth mentoring agencies in all 50 states.

In addition to regular mentoring for children six to 18, some BBBS chapters offer school mentoring programs. With the school programs, mentors visit their mentees on school grounds during school hours for one hour a week. They help them with their homework, read together and play games.

"We know that there are a lot of benefits for the younger children," says Jennifer Owen. She's the program manager at a BBBS agency. "Academics almost always improve. Relationships with family and peers improve. Their physical health improves."

Over the years, Owen has seen some amazing mentor-mentee matches. She knows of one match that has lasted for decades.

Years ago, a man and a boy were matched through the Big Brothers program. They stayed in touch all their lives, says Owen. The Little Brother is now in his 50s. The Big Brother is in his 90s and his health is failing. And the Little Brother is there to look after him now.

Often on weekends, Reuben Bullock and his eight-year-old mentee can be seen at the skateboard park, jumping off ramps and grinding on rails.

Their interest in skateboarding is the reason Big Brothers Big Sisters matched the two. But even when they're not performing nosegrinds and railstands, skateboarding still factors into their time together. A general contractor and carpenter, Bullock engages his little brother in carpentry projects. Together, they built a wooden skateboard ramp, and sanded down old, scratched skateboards.

But more importantly than learning new tricks or building things, Bullock's Little Brother is gaining a consistent, positive influence.

"He's been through a lot of things that kids his age shouldn't go through," says Bullock. "He's like a little man when you talk to him," Bullock adds.

Bullock says a lot of the kids in the program come from homes without father figures. "There's a void where they don't have an older male figure to just share experiences from their own lives," he says.

Bullock works long hours and looks forward to the breaks with his Little Brother. "Being around a kid all the time, it opens up a new way of thinking. It kind of lightens things up."

Every kid who learns about the DREAM mentoring program wants a mentor. And why wouldn't they? They get to hang out with cool college kids on campus. DREAM is a youth mentoring organization, started in 1999 by a group of college students. The organization matches students at several colleges in Vermont with children from low-income neighborhoods.

"We do things with them that they might not necessarily do. It's a totally different world than they're used to, so they get really excited about it," says Kylie Edwards. She's a senior at Saint Michael's College and mentors a 10-year-old boy whose family recently moved from Kosovo.

The pair meets every Friday. They join in on group activities like swimming and sledding. Or, they spend one-on-one time together on campus doing homework. "I go to all his basketball games and soccer games," Edwards adds. "I always sit with his parents." The one-on-one time is an opportunity for the children to talk about problems - things like being picked on at school.

"When they approach you and express that to you, it's very rewarding," says Edwards. Edwards plans to be a social worker, and feels her volunteer work with DREAM will help her in her career. "[It's] just having to deal with kids and having an understanding of what kids are thinking and feeling."

A love of music brought together Julie Pilat and her 17-year-old mentee. Youth Mentoring Connection matched the pair three years ago.

Pilat works in the music industry in Los Angeles, and meets with her mentee twice a month. They attend concerts together, participate in the program's group activities or work on homework at the local coffee shop.

Pilat says the biggest challenge is not being able to control everything in her mentee's life. "You don't always have all the answers," she says. But she supports her mentee as best she can.

"It puts the emphasis and the spotlight back on real life," says Pilat. "Because I work in the entertainment industry, it's easy to go to work... and then after work go to a business dinner and then to a concert. You know, getting involved in the community has really grounded me.

"It's a good opportunity to help the community, but you end up learning a lot about yourself," she adds. "And it's fun too."

Meanwhile, Pilat's mentee has gained perspective about the work that goes on behind the scenes in the music industry. And in three years Pilat has seen tremendous changes in her mentee.

"She was very artistic, very musical, a little bit of an outsider at school, didn't really talk, felt isolated," says Pilat. "She started coming out of her shell once she got into mentoring. Next thing you know, she's the lead singer of a band and performing in front of the school."

How to Get Involved

Most youth mentoring organizations require mentors to be at least 18 or 19 years old. In some cases, mentors must be 21 or older. However, some BBBS agencies offer programs for younger teen mentors.

Find a youth mentoring program near you and ask about age restrictions. Typically, you'll need to complete an application, interview with staff and pass a background check before mentoring. You may also be asked to provide reference letters. Some organizations offer training to new mentors.


Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
230 N. 13th St.
Philadelphia , PA   19107

MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership
1600 Duke St., Suite 300
Alexandria , VA  


Volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters
Learn more about becoming a "Big" and sign up to volunteer

DREAM Program
Find out more about this youth mentoring program in Vermont

Youth Mentoring Connection
Learn more about this youth mentoring organization in Los Angeles

Mentoring Tips
Read some youth mentoring tips

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