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A New Year, A New Impact: Become A Mentor
Updated January 4, 2017 7:29 AM
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Tami Silverman president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute

(UNDATED) - Talk to successful individuals in almost any setting and you most certainly will hear stories of how caring adults - mentors - played key roles in guiding them on their journeys.

Tami Silverman, the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute says, research abounds about the benefits of high-quality mentor-mentee relationships, whether they were developed informally, assigned through afterschool programs or solicited by the mentees themselves. Mentors expand children's support networks, help them build important skills, and grow into well-rounded, principled, and prosperous citizens.

By matching a caring, trained adult with a youth, mentorship is a development, prevention and intervention strategy. When we ensure the healthy development of the next generation, they will pay that back through productive and responsible citizenship. Yet too many kids, especially boys, who want and need mentors remain without one. January is National Mentoring Month - the perfect time for caring adults to step up to fill these critical roles.

Mentoring plays a big role in developing healthy students. David Shapiro, CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, calls it "the mentoring effect" - having relationships that are both protective and supportive throughout a child's upbringing. Key benefits of mentoring directly relate to positive educational outcomes including increased graduation rates, lower dropout rates, better attitudes about school, higher college enrollment rates, and higher educational aspirations.

The benefits of mentoring also extend well beyond academics. Involvement in mentoring relationships helps kids avoid experiencing depressive symptoms and engaging in violent behaviors or drug and alcohol use. A Big Brothers Big Sisters study found youth who met regularly with their mentors were 46 percent less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs, and 27 percent less likely to start drinking. Mentees in high-quality programs were also less likely to hit another youth and had lower delinquency rates. A 2013 study, The Role of Risk, identified the greatest benefit of mentoring as a reduction in depressive symptoms, a critical finding, as almost one in four youth at the beginning of the study had reported worrisome levels of these symptoms. Finally, a 2014 MENTOR study found that young adults who faced an opportunity gap but had a mentor were 81 percent more likely to participate regularly in sports or extracurricular activities. 

While countless students reap mentoring benefits, the value can be amplified for kids facing the greatest hurdles.

According to the American Institutes for Research, mentoring initiatives often focus on African American boys because many in low-income communities are at high risk for school failure, school exclusion, low educational attainment, gang involvement, substance abuse and criminal justice involvement.

"One of the challenges I see is that we have to help men understand the importance of pouring themselves into the life of a young person who's coming up," said Ontay Johnson, executive director of 100 Black Men of Indianapolis. "We get men to remember that you didn't make it to where you are by yourself."

Research funded by the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey found that mentoring initiatives helped boys create and develop healthy identities, build their self-belief, and facilitated the skill development and social connections needed to succeed.

Not all mentoring programs are beneficial, and some well-intentioned, yet poorly structured, programs can have negative impacts on kids. MENTOR outlines essential elements for strong mentoring programs. First, programs must set clear expectations for both the mentors and the mentees. Screening needs to include an application, a mentor's commitment of at least one year and one face-to-face meeting per week, and a face-to-face interview, a reference check, and a criminal background check. At least two hours of training prior to the match helps increase the likelihood of creating positive matches. Finally, mentorship training and support throughout the relationship is essential.

Caring, empathetic, and dedicated adults who serve as mentors can be vital guides to help kids successfully transition into adulthood. Yet one in three kids is still waiting for a mentor. Quality mentoring programs can be found throughout Indiana. To find one near you, visit www.iyi.org and click on the Indiana Mentoring Partnership link to sign up today. By stepping up, you'll not only improve the life of a child, you also will be enriching your own life and community, while honoring those special people who helped you succeed.

Tami Silverman may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI.



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