This blog post is part of a brief series MENTOR has put together highlighting the work of grantees of Mentoring Enhancement Demonstration Project (MEDP) funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. This innovative project, which began in FY 2012, was intended to test whether mentoring programs could make enhancements to their usual services that strengthened mentors’ ability to serve as advocates and take on more of an explicit teaching role with their mentees. The hope was that this approach might strengthen mentor-mentee relationships and lead to stronger outcomes for youth.
Now that the evaluation of the project is coming to a close, we wanted to highlight the unique and innovative approaches to teaching and advocacy developed by several of the funded organizations. These posts highlight their excellent work and can illustrate for other mentoring programs how they might approach program improvements and participate in research projects in the future. The National Mentoring Resource Center thanks each grantee for their contributions to the project and for sharing their reflections with us here.
Below is one of many more blog posts to come detailing MEDP grantees wonderful contributions to the mentoring field.
Project Name: Utah 4-H Mentoring Initiative
Project Agencies/Programs Involved: Utah State University / 4-H Mentoring
Why did you decide to get involved in the MEDP project? What motivated you to take on this effort?
Utah State University has had tremendous success with our 4-H Mentoring program. We are constantly seeking grants and external funding to continue the program. When we saw the request for application we felt we could take on the added enhancements to the program which would further benefit the youth and provide funds to continue our mentoring program at the same time. Our key staff have been involved in large scale evaluations in the past and had the previous experience so we knew we could do it.
Please describe how you approached the idea of teaching and advocacy in your program. How did you all determine the enhancements you were going to implement?
Before the teaching and advocacy enhancements were introduced, our program was operating with high quality standards for mentoring services, so implementing additional enhancements without overwhelming mentors or youth was important. The main area we wanted to work on was further involving youth and families in 4-H programming outside of mentoring. 4-H has a historic, proven track record for positive youth development, but many youth involved exclusively with 4-H Mentoring were not being exposed to additional 4-H programming; thus, by exposing these youth to 4-H programming through the teaching and advocacy component we could further influence their positive development.
An essential area we focused on was matching youth and mentors based on similar interests. We did this by having youth and mentors fill out interest surveys. These interest surveys led program staff to match youth and mentors with similar compatibility. We found increased success in the initial match by pairing youth and mentors with similar interests, instead of taking an arbitrary approach to matching youth.
We also focused on involving mentors in the teaching and advocacy component. Mentors were encouraged to advocate for increased 4-H involvement for their mentee through county fair, 4-H contests, camps, and other sponsored 4-H activities. We encouraged families to get involved in additional family activities by providing 12 Family Night Out activities instead of 6.
What new or enhanced practices were most effective in your opinion? Were there some ideas that worked better than others?
The two most effective enhancements were mentor council and mentor conference. Both enhancements were designed to support and train mentors throughout the duration of their match. We found both enhancements very successful in helping train mentors, understand mentor needs, and receive feedback for program improvements.
Mentor conference was a two-day overnight conference which involved mentors with the teaching and advocacy enhancement. This allowed us to train mentors in depth through workshops and activities. Mentors also developed relationships with other mentors going through similar situations with their mentee.
Mentor council was designed to receive feedback from mentors. This allowed us to adapt to their needs and struggles. We also allowed the mentors to help us plan monthly Family Night Out and Mentor/Mentee activities. This led to better activities which the mentors and mentees had a stronger desire to attend because they helped in the planning.
Obviously a big part of this enhancement work was building tools and resources to support it. Can you tell us a bit about the tools and/or resources you used during this project?
We developed three main tools to support mentors and youth:
- Mentor Support Packet
- This packet was provided to each mentor as they initially met with staff. It clearly outlines expectations, responsibilities, and boundaries to set with youth. We found mentors better prepared before the initial match as expectations were clearly outlined in pre-match training.
- Advocacy and Teaching Worksheet
- This outlined various 4-H activities and events and projects that youth mentor and mentee could do together.
- Youth and Mentor Interest Survey
- Youth and Mentors were asked to fill out an interest survey. This allowed us to match mentors and youth with more similarities.
Ed. Note: The agencies involved in this collaborative were kind enough to share a few of the resources mentioned here for download and use by others. Please see the download links at the bottom of this post. If your program uses any of these resources, we ask that you give credit to the funded agencies referenced in this post.
What didn’t work so well, or needs more refinement? What might you tell other programs to avoid when thinking about making similar enhancements to their programs?
We increased our training on the teaching and advocacy component quite a bit. Too much training for mentors and site coordinators can distract from the core purpose of the program.
4-H Mentoring operates at a high level with numerous opportunities such as one-to-one mentoring, mentor/mentee activities, weekly club, and other 4-H programming, which made it challenging to add additional enhancements on top of everything else. It was difficult for the mentors to take on an additional component.
What was it like participating in a rigorous federal research project like this? Any advice for other programs who might be participating in evaluations like this?
Participating in a federal research project was a new, challenging experience for our staff. It allowed us to further develop our research skills and understand the needs of the youth we serve. The foremost challenge was helping new staff understand the background, logistics, and requirements for the research project. We spent a lot time training new staff on their responsibilities pertaining to the research study. Since we have continual staff turnover this proved somewhat challenging. Staff often spent lengthy periods of time collecting data and surveys, which sometimes detracted from their central responsibilities in the program.
The other challenge was incentivizing mentors, youth, and parents to participate due to the lengthy survey process. Due to the background of the population demographic we serve, it was often difficult to help them understand the necessity for completing the surveys. We believe a more concise survey and collection would have led to higher response rates.
Also having a control group and an enhancement group was extremely difficult to manage. 4-H Mentoring which already has other enhancements to the mentoring relationship in the form of Family Strengthen Activities called Family Night Outs monthly and weekly 4-H club meeting, made it difficult it difficult to see additional improvement from the teaching and advocacy components.
Anything else you’d like to share about your program?
For future information about the 4-H Mentoring program, check out our website at http://utahcounty4h.org/youthprograms/mentoring.
Brandon Summers, USU Extension 4-H Mentoring Program Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org
JoLene Bunnell, USU Extension 4-H Youth Development Professor, email@example.com
Kathleen Riggs, USU Extension FCS & 4-H Professor, firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a repost from National Mentoring Resources Center. For original post, please click here.