How volunteers in mentoring can help provide a bridge between youth in distress and leaders

Yanay-Ventura, G., & Amitay, G. (2019). Volunteers’ practices in mentoring youth in distress: Volunteers as informal agents for youth. Children and Youth Services Review99, 418-428.

Summarized by Karina DeAndrade

Note of Interest: This qualitative study examined the mentoring process from the volunteers’ perspective. Specifically, researchers interviewed 28 participants to understand how they learn about ways of coping with marginality, and subsequently facilitate improved communication between youth and adults in leadership positions. Six main strategies volunteers working with youth in distress are highlighted. Findings suggest that youth benefit from volunteers who are able to be honest, open and an informal figure with them.


Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract):

Whereas the literature deals extensively with volunteering with at-risk youth, relatively little research has addressed the practical work strategies of the volunteers themselves. This study aims to fill this gap by exploring the strategies employed by youth mentoring volunteers based on qualitative research with 28 volunteers, two-thirds of whom defined themselves as former youth in distress. This focus enables us to learn about ways of coping with marginality from individuals who actually experienced it. The results point to six strategies that were reflected in the interviews: honesty and directness, listening, informal activities, refraining from judgment and containing anger and resistance, bridging between youth and caregiving entities, and cultivating a realistic sense of self-efficacy as volunteers. In essence, these strategies seek to increase access to the youth, to provide them with unconditional support, and to enable volunteers to supplement the professionals for the benefit of the youth. Though not professionals, volunteers create an agency-promoting environment to help youth escape marginalization.


Implications (Reprinted from Discussion):

This study presented six strategies of volunteers working with youth in distress: honesty and directness, listening, informal activities, re-fraining from judgment and containing anger and resistance, bridging between youth and caregiving entities, and nurturing a realistic sense of self-efficacy as volunteers. Each strategy illuminated a variety of needs of the youth, as perceived by the volunteers, in addition to principles of action that could provide a solution to these needs. In an overall analysis, beyond the unique cases, we can list three major themes in the work of the volunteers: (1) the need to provide the youth beneficiaries with unconditional support; (2) the need to increase the volunteers’ access to the youth as a strategic tool; and (3) the ability to supplement the professionals for the benefit of the youth

Rosenfeld (1993) claims that the ability to assist people who come from a state of extreme social exclusion in overcoming social barriers lies in the ability to work with the people; to stand by them totally and unequivocally, and to undergo their life experiences together with them, as a first step toward cooperative work. The paradigm of co-operation and reciprocity, as Rosenfeld explains it, is rooted in the perception that the professional, or helper, does not approach the co-operation with a preordained paradigm; rather, the principles of action are discovered during the cooperative process and through working with the other person. Thus, the care giving entireties must have the ability to reveal and discover new and unknown forms of assistance and to invent these forms together with the other person (Rosenfeld, 1993). This dictates the need for an ability to be continuously creative and inventive (Rosenfeld, 2017)

This study focused on locating mentors from different statuses, particularly mentors who themselves were former youth in distress. Research shows that being a mentor with a life background similar to that of the beneficiary can result in a long and meaningful relationship and can also reduce the likelihood of mentor abandonment, which can be extremely detrimental to youth in distress (Spencer et al., 2018). Mueller (2005)noted that youth contending with difficulties are also good supporters. The same qualities that cause them problems with the parties treating them were the qualities that made them successful mentors, and they forged good relationships with their clients. They started conversations and were less deterred by difficult physical dis-plays. The narratives in this study also indicated that these volunteers possessed special sensitivities, insight, and perspectives. They revealed their past openly and, in themselves, provided the beneficiaries with an example of posts-traumatic growth. These initial insights require us to continue researching the human capital provided by the life experience and uniqueness of volunteers who were once beneficiaries. This focus could have a fundamental impact on the entry of new groups of volunteers who will bring with them new commitments, benefits, and modes of volunteering derived from their life experience (Hustinx,2001; Yanay-Ventura, 2018)


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