Practice Corner: Using Research to show Community Impact of Mentoring

Marty MartinezBy Marty Martinez

As National Mentoring Month draws to a close it is important to continue our efforts to raise awareness and give voice to the impact and outcomes that youth mentoring can have in our communities. As practitioners in the field, many program leaders and staff use National Mentoring Month as a means to celebrate mentors, give recognition to supporters and funders and tell the many stories of hope that their program creates. It is vital that those stories continue well beyond January and are part of the overall fabric of how a program operates and builds partnerships to ensure that success can not only continue but be expanded. The story of one young person is powerful and is the reason that we are all in this business but connecting those stories to community or system impact is incredibly important in creating broader support and an understanding of the difference mentoring makes.

As program leaders in the field, it is great to see that research supports the impact mentoring can have in improving the lives and experiences of young people. Just take a look at some of the latest research being highlighted from Black, D.S., Grenard, J.L., Sussman, S. & Rohrbach, L.A. giving us support for our school-based efforts in their study, “The influence of school-based natural mentoring relationships on school attachment and subsequent adolescent risk behaviors” (2010), to Chan, C., Rhodes, J., Howard, W., Schwartz, S., Lowe, & S. Herrera, C. providing support that mentoring leads to improved relationships for youth with their parents and teachers in “Pathways of influence in school-based mentoring: The mediating role of parent and teacher relationships.” (2013). The impact on an individual young person is clear, caring adult mentors in the lives of young people help to provide important skills, tools, and resources that create vital protective factors for youth. These studies, and others like them, help us understand the impact and reach of mentoring on young people, helping to prove what many of us see happening for the young people being served.

But as practitioners in the field, it is important that this data tells a story that allows us to show the broader impact that we are making. We must clearly talk about how mentoring young people in school is improving academic participation and enhancing the learning environment for all young people with and without mentors. We must discuss how caring adult mentors in a school can strengthen community ties, reduce risky behaviors, and create safe and healthy classrooms for all youth. We must talk about how mentoring young people helps to strengthen family connections and open lines of communication and how that improved relationship building can result in safer decision making and stronger bonds for all involved. We must give voice to the knowledge that teaching young people to develop healthy relationships with adults leads to less violence in a community which creates greater opportunities and abilities for all people to mediate problems and produce solutions. Too often the impact of mentoring is child centered and not community or societal focused.

The facts and figures that research provides the field is instrumental in building support, learning to improve and strengthen our practices, and ensuring that we are having the impact we intend to achieve. This information provides us with the opportunity to give voice to the larger impact mentoring is having and the community-wide changes we are working to make. We are in the business of making a difference in the lives of young people, but we are also part of a movement to impact our families, our schools, and our communities. That is the story that we must use research to help us tell.