In the year before Safer Society Foundation launched its mentoring program for at-risk children in Vermont, we attended a variety of live and online mentoring forums and spoke with the directors of the larger mentoring programs in our state. One of the main lessons learned was that mentor retention is a more formidable task than mentor recruitment. A number of directors I spoke with told me that up to 50 percent of their mentor recruitment time was spent replacing mentors who had drop out of the program prematurely. Early termination is indeed the scourge of mentoring programs. I was determined to make our program as dropout-proof as possible. The mentoring article in the second issue of The New Circle will describe the steps Safer Society Foundation has taken to achieve this goal.
Most mentoring program funding comes from governmental and private grants. In general, there are three primary criteria for both types of grant awards:
- Program size, i.e., the number of mentor-mentee matches.
- Program growth, i.e., net new matches per funding year. According to Mentor Vermont, “programs that are able to sustainably grow their program to reach more youths may receive a larger grant award.”4
- Program sustainability, i.e., evidence that the program can
sustain itself financially—the best evidence being program
longevity and a history of program funding.
Secondly, rapid program growth is anathema to programs for at-risk youths. Directors of mentoring programs seeking to increase their match numbers to meet the goals of expansion set out by mentoring funders find themselves in a vicious cycle of rapidly recruiting and training new mentors; losing a large percentage of them prematurely; then needing to recruit and train new mentors just to replace the dropouts. This cycle of mentor turnover is especially harmful to programs in which the single most important goal is to provide long-term, reliable mentoring relationships to at-risk youths.
Finally, the requirement of financial sustainability set by funding sources means, quite simply, that you need to have funding in order to secure funding. Most startup programs have neither. As the director of Mentor Vermont, a key distributor of governmental and nongovernmental mentoring program grant money in the state of Vermont, told me recently, those funding sources are just beginning to consider quality as well as quantity in their criteria for determining grant awards. If that is so, it represents a giant step forward in the battle to adequately fund mentoring programs for at-risk children and adolescents.
The Challenge of Providing Wrap-Around Services
In the mentoring article in the second issue of The New Circle, we will describe the successful partnership between the Counseling Service of Addison County, Vermont, and Safer Society Foundation’s mentoring program. In future issues of The New Circle, articles in this column will examine other innovative solutions to the challenges faced by at-risk youth mentoring programs such as:
- Identifying and recruiting the best mentors
- Training mentors of at-risk youths
- Building community connections of mentees through group
- Successful partnering with school counselors and school-based
- Fundraising within the community
- Applying for grants
1. Big Brothers Big Sisters. Who we are. http://www.bbbsi.org/about-us/
2. Mentoring.org. (2017). Mentor survey report. https://www.mentoring.org/
3. Rhodes, J. (2017, April 26). What can data from 6,500 matches tell us about
mentoring relationships?: Important insights from a new study. The Chronicle
of Evidence-Based Mentoring. https://www.evidencebasedmentoring.org/can-
4. Mentor VT. (2018). 2017-2018 Vermont mentoring grants. https://www.
5. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2017, November).
Mentee risk status and mentoring program practices predictors of match
outcomes: OJJDP-funded research in brief. U.S. Department of Justice.
6. Jarjoura, G. Roger. (2016, February 14). Mentoring for children of incarcerated
parents: National Mentoring Research Center review. The Chronicle of
Evidence-Based Mentoring. https://www.evidencebasedmentoring.org/