Youth Initiated Mentoring: A new approach to working with vulnerable adolescents

NGYCPSchwartz, S., Rhodes, J., Spencer, R., & Grossman, J. (2013) Youth initiated mentoring: Investigating a new approach to working with vulnerable adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology.



This article examines the use of Youth Initiated Mentoring (YIM) in the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program (NGYCP), an intensive residential program for youth who have dropped out of school, which includes a unique mentoring component after program completion.


The study examined 1,173 youth from 10 different NGYCP sites across the country; youth must be drug-free at the time of entry, not currently on probation or parole, and not convicted of a felony or capital offense.  Youth were randomly assigned to either the program group or a control group. Assessments examined demographic information, mentoring relationships, mentor selection, and youth outcomes of GED/HS diploma, college credit, employment, convictions, binge drinking, and marijuana use; these were collected at baseline, 9 months, 21 months, and 38 months (i.e., more than 1.5 years after completion of post-residential phase).

The NGYCP has 3 phases:

  •   (1) The Pre-ChalleNGe phase: 2 weeks of intensive and highly structured orientation and assessment
  •   (2) The Residential phase: 20 week period, youth can work toward high school diploma or GED,  take classes on life skills,      participate in other activities, and community service
  •   (3) The Post-Residential Phase: youth identifies an action plan of activities (i.e., GED program,   community college, vocational training, job, military) to be carried out with the support of the  mentor

The program utilizes Youth Initiated Mentoring (YIM), in which youth nominate mentors from among the non-parental adults who are already in their existing social networks (i.e., teachers, family, friends, extended family members).


Who are the mentors?

  • Mean age of mentors was 46.7 years old (ranging from 26 to 84 years old)
  • broad range of occupations, with the most common being in management, education, protective services, construction, and social services
  • 26% of mentors lived in neighborhoods with the same zip-code as their mentee

How were mentors chosen?

  • 55% of youth chose their mentors themselves
  • 37% had help from their parents
  • 5%  were helped by the program staff

Contact with mentors?

  • 9 month follow up: 76% of youth reported contact with their mentors
  • 21 month follow up: 74% of youth reported contact with their mentors, but contact was less frequent
  • 38 month follow up: 56% of youth reported contact with mentor

Youth outcomes:

  • participants in the treatment group who were in contact with their mentors at 38-months showed significant benefits compared to the control group in a range of academic, vocational, and behavioral outcomes, including GED/HS diploma, college credit, months employed, earnings, months idle, and convictions
  • participants in contact at 21 months showed benefits on GED/HS diploma, college credit, and months idle
  • participants who were not in contact at 21 months showed no significant differences from the control group

Supporting Program Success:

  • the mentoring component was designed to support youth in the post-residential phase, however, qualitative interviews revealed that the mentor also played an important role during the residential phase
  • “I’m convinced that’s the whole reason I got through the program, was because of my mentor”
  • “It would’ve been cool, like the whole program an’ everything, but not having a plan for afterwards, or someone you can go talk to, you probably would’a’ just went back to the same, you know, same stuff you were doing…It probably only would’a’ changed you for the six months you were in there an’ then you would’a’ went right back, like afterwards.”

Supporting Positive Development:

  • In addition to helping youth in the context of the program, youth also noted the mentors support of their positive development in general, including:
    • 1) social-emotional support: “someone to rely on,” “someone who cared about me”
    • 2) guidance: helped youth “stay on track” whether it be in school, family, work, etc.
    • 3) instrumental support: practical assistance, help finding a job, advocating for them in court
    • participants in enduring relationships reported having similar backgrounds with their mentors, and most believed these similarities were beneficial


Results from the study demonstrate that enduring YIM mentoring relationships were associated with greater retention of outcomes in NGYCP, particularly those who maintained their relationships with their mentors at the 38 month follow up; they showed more positive benefits compared to controls in all areas except for substance use. Thus showing that YIM and the NGYCP moves beyond the limits of  many “second chance” programs that struggle to maintain positive outcomes once the program has been completed.

The study also showed, that the majority of YIM relationships were long-lasting with 74% of matches continuing at 21 month follow up; this is much longer than traditional formal mentoring relationships. Thus, demonstrating that drawing on adult mentors in youths’ existing social networks through YIM may be especially conducive to long-lasting relationships.

Results also showed that youth who chose their mentors on their own had more enduring relationships, showing that youth may be best at determining who would be a good match for them, and/or youth may be more invested in a relationship that they chose (Deci & Ryan, 1985).  In addition,, the mechanisms through which YIM work to benefit youth were in the forms of socio-emotional support, guidance, and instrumental support from the mentor, which contributed to their positive development.


Mentors played an important role in both promoting program success and positive outcomes, suggesting that YIM may be a particularly effective strategy to incorporate into residential intervention programs, as well as an effective model for mentoring vulnerable adolescents. Practically speaking, YIM relationships could help reduce the costs of recruiting mentors, and also address the problems surrounding premature terminations of relationships. Thus, “the YIM model allows communities to recognize, harness, and develop the internal social capital and cultural wealth available to youth within their communities” (Portes, 2000; Yosso, 2005).

This article was summarized by UMB doctoral student Laura Yoviene.