Profiles in Mentoring: A conversation with Kristin Humphrey of Partners for Youth with Disabilities

Kristin Humphrey is the Mentoring Director at Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD), a Boston-based organization with national impact that matches youth with disabilities with caring adults through one-on-one, group, and online mentoring. Humphrey has worked with youth with disabilities for the past nine years, and has been involved with mentoring for over a decade.

Written by Kirsten Christensen


Chronicle (C): Tell me more about Partners for Youth with Disabilities? What are the different mentoring models and why did you choose to structure the program in such a way? 

 Kristin Humphrey (KH): The mission of PYD is to empower youth with disabilities (ages 6-24) to reach their full potential by providing transformative mentoring relationships, youth development opportunities, and inclusion expertise. We motivate youth to reach their personal, educational, and career goals and guide organizations in becoming more inclusive.

We envision an inclusive global society in which youth with disabilities have the access to support to achieve their full potential. We believe that youth with disabilities who are educated, mentored, and empowered have a profoundly positive impact on their community and the world.

In 1985, our Executive director, Regina Snowden was working with a mentoring program and was getting a lot of referrals from youth with disabilities and noticed that there weren’t existing programs working with that population.

The Mentor Match program, a community based mentoring program, is a cornerstone of our organization, and its structured around the elements of effective practice. Over time, PYD developed a variety of other mentoring models in order to find innovative ways to meet the large need. All of our programs are designed and intend to illuminate and nurture the power and potential of youth with disabilities.

In addition to our one to one mentoring program, we have 2 group mentoring programs and an inclusive e-mentoring program (one related to health, the other related to theatre). Both of these programs allow youth to develop friendships, gain pride in their abilities, foster communication skills and learn new resources.


C: How do you see mentoring model contributing to the mentees’ development and growth?

KH: All of our programs are grounded in a philosophy of empowerment. Specifically, in the mentoring program, we have five overarching goals areas that give matches a good idea of ways they can support each other and grow: self-esteem, healthy relationships, community involvement, independent living and education/vocation. Through the consistent support of mentors, we do see our mentee demonstrate big strides toward their goals. We see this through stories that point to growth and our research.

In 2015, we partnered with Tufts Medical Center to do a project that looked at mentoring youth with autism. It looked at how mentoring could impact the self-esteem, social comfort, and quality of life for teenagers on the autism spectrum.  The results revealed that all the participants saw improvements in their self-esteem, decreases in their social anxiety, and improvement in their quality of life throughout the mentoring program. Another study we conducted also showed that 70% of mentees improved in their self-determination as a result of mentoring.


C: What would you consider to be the key qualities or practices of an effective mentor? This can be either in PYD, or in mentoring in general. 

 KH: At the beginning of our mentor trainings, we always ask our new volunteers to brainstorm the qualities of effective mentors that they have had in their own life. One quality that I see come up a lot is listening. Understanding that mentors don’t need to be superheroes, but the act of showing up, being present, and actively listening to their mentees is extremely powerful. That also really speaks to the point that mentoring is a reciprocal relationship and when mentors are listening, they often will learn as much from their mentees as their mentees learn from them.


C: Do you have any favorite anecdotes or stories from PYD?

 KH: There are so many wonderful stories of mentors and mentees who have shaped each other’s lives. One that always comes to mind is a match who always matched at their event. They have been matched for over 5 years, and though the mentor (Kate) recently moved to the south for her job, they are still in touch in a more natural way. Every time before they would go to an event, the mentee (Becky) would always call Kate to ask what color she was wearing so that she could plan to match outfits for all the events.

In that match, bowling and cooking were two of their favorite activities. Bowling was something they both thought was fun and cooking was a passion they both shared. Kate always tried to incorporate functional life skills into these activities. For example, when bowling, they would incorporate math skills by adding up their scores. When cooking, Kate would teach Becky how to look for ingredients, how to plan things out and how to measure ingredients, and how to keep time.

Over the past 5 years, they’ve been though a lot of transitions together, and Kate was always there to support her and show her how happy she was that Becky did turn to her for advice and help. Most importantly, Becky has had an equally important impact on Kate’s life. Kate ended up realizing that she wanted to change her career and work with students with disabilities. After being in the Mentor Match program, Kate went back to grad school and received her Master’s in education in moderate disabilities. This one story sheds light on the mutually beneficial impact mentees and mentors have on each other’s lives.


C: Did you have any mentors growing up? If so, how did they impact you?

KH: I’ve been fortunate to have a variety of mentors, but one that always comes to mind when I think about a transformative mentor was my high school cross country coach. I happened to meet him during a more challenging time in my life and he quickly became a tremendous positive source. He was someone that was really easy to talk to and always completely present for every conversation and I knew he had experienced adversity in his own life and that made it easier for me to share my own. He made me excited to work toward goals – ones that I had not previously imagined for myself. The love of athletics that he helped to ignite is one thing that stuck with me so after high school I went on to run cross country in college and since graduating I have participated in charity fundraisers and football leagues every year.

He really introduced me to something that has had a lifelong impact. Thinking about him and the impact he has had reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Aimee Mullins who is a Paralympian “all you need is one person to show you the epiphany of your own power.” To me, that’s what mentoring is all about.


C: Does PYD have any current volunteer opportunities? How can members of the community get involved?

KH: We are always looking for more caring adult mentors, so to become involved with that, they can visit Under the mentoring tab, they can fill out an online intake form and our staff will be in touch to provide more background on the program and do an in-person interview. For those who are interested in one-time opportunities, we also have a career readiness program (YEP) who are always looking for individuals to talk about their careers and mentor their students.