Strengthening quality youth mentoring programs through service fellowships

Marty Martinez

by Marty Martinez

As practitioners, we are all committed to providing high quality mentoring to youth in need across our communities. Mentoring organizations are a vital and integral piece of youth development, focusing on outcomes including academic preparedness, workforce readiness, and violence prevention. We rely heavily on the power of volunteers at the mentor-level, who provide support and care to young people; but it is also important to engage the power of volunteers at the programming and organizational level to improve our capacity to serve youth in an effective manner. Effectively trained and supported volunteers, hired through AmeriCorps or other service fellowships, can have impressive sustainable impacts on the programs they serve. The “people power” of these volunteers ensures that research-based practices are implemented effectively, and are not just something to aspire to. These programs have great effects on their individual host sites, and in turn, collectively raise the level of the field.

The Highland Street Corps Ambassadors of Mentoring is one such program. Created in 2008, the program allows diverse mentoring and youth development organizations across Massachusetts to engage volunteers at the program level for a year of service. Stipended volunteers work to implement new program designs, evaluation tools, recruitment and retention best practices, and more. Many are focused on bringing research-based best practices to the program level. Programs like these are made possible through the contributions of private foundations, corporations, and government funding, as well as the individual volunteers who serve. They are examples of partnerships that not only impact the youth being served, but build long term capacity in organizations and the field of mentoring in general. From Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, a community based organizing entity in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, where an AmeriCorps member is infusing mentoring best practices into their programs that are already serving youth, to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mass Bay, where a member is working to create a partnership between a housing development and a local college, these members are building important capacity in these agencies. Similar programs in Michigan and Virginia also utilize the service of AmeriCorps members to improve their practices and program delivery. The volunteer power in mentoring programs extends well beyond the role of the mentor.

High quality mentoring isn’t easy to achieve. But the benefits of mentoring to our youth are clear. Programs such as these contribute to the success of our field in a new and sustainable way. AmeriCorps volunteers often go on to employment at their host sites or other youth development organizations, keeping their knowledge and capacity building skills in our realm of mentoring.  Although their impact is focused on their individual sites, their efforts help raise the capacity of our organizations to serve youth in an effective and meaningful manner. As practitioners, we must continue to look for innovative ways to bring resources to our programs. These resources allow us to make best practices a reality in every aspect of what we do.

For more information on the Highland Street Corps Ambassadors of Mentoring Program and how to get involved, please visit the following Mass Mentoring Partnership webpage: