Youth-Initiated Mentoring is a game changer for disconnected youth

DECEMBER 10, 2015

At Midlands Mentoring Partnership (MMP), our community-wide data indicates that a priority must be made to reach the most vulnerable youth with quality formal mentoring services. A prospective solution came in 2013 when promising research was released that showed a tremendous potential for utilizing a new mentoring model called Youth Initiated Mentoring (YIM) to recruit positive adult role models to serve these youth. YIM empowers youth to identify and engage potential mentors within the constellation of caring adults already a part of their lives. The youth are then matched with their selected mentor in a formal mentoring model. The screening and training of the prospective mentor is supervised, facilitated, monitored, and supported by mentoring programs utilizing best practices.



Five key strengths of the YIM model are:

  • Stronger program retention: Relationships less likely to fail because of the nature of the pre-existing relationship
  • Greater durability of relationships: Relationships more likely to endure longer than 12 months
  • Greater access to community assets: YIM mentors live and/or work in the young person’s community, helping to make important connections
  • Stronger outcomes: strong emotional bonds between the mentor and mentor create an essential precursor to strong behavioral outcomes
  • Greater program efficiency: Recruitment costs decrease since the young person recruits their own mentor

MMP initiated a project in July 2014 to pilot the YIM model in partnership with two existing formal mentoring programs in Omaha, Nebraska. MMP provided all of the funding, logistical support, mentee referrals, and training to support these two programs as they began to utilize YIM to match referrals received from the juvenile justice and foster care systems.

The first year of the project resulted in a sizeable jump in the number of youth from the juvenile justice and foster care systems being matched with a mentor. This project also developed capacity within both mentoring programs to be able to continue to support and implement YIM. As a result of the YIM pilot project, Midlands Mentoring Partnership was recruited by Drs. Jean Rhodes and Renee Spencer to participate in a national evaluation to measure the impact of YIM, and share the processes behind implementation, in order to provide other programs with a blueprint around how to utilize this model.

There have been many successes and challenges on the project thus far, but the most interesting lessons learned have been:

  • The importance of developing a strong partnership with the mentee referral sources, who have helped troubleshoot problems, and have even provided case management assistance to mentoring program staff when mentees and their families were difficult to reach.
  • The importance of regular communication with mentoring program staff in creating mutual accountability and transparency. This has been important in a project where it can be easy to get sidetracked without these regular check-ins with all partners.
  • Great anecdotal evidence that these matches really do ‘hit the ground running’ and have much less of a warming up period – because of their preexisting connection. This has lead staff to believe that the research on YIM rings true – that mentoring relationships are stronger and more enduring because of a preexisting connection.

Because of local and national interest, MMP has secured additional funding to pilot YIM in two additional formal mentoring programs during 2015-2016. YIM has certainly been a game changer for Omaha youth – and has the possibility to impact the mentoring field on a national level.

To learn more about how Midlands Mentoring Partnership has implemented Youth Initiated Mentoring, please contact Deborah Neary at or Whitney Mastin at

This project was supported by Grant # 2013-JU-FX-0005 awarded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.  The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.