Three recently published studies conducted by the University of Massachusetts’ Center for Evidence Based Mentoring demonstrate that an innovative, new mentoring concept holds great potential for youth development.
For more than two decades, Dare Mighty Things, Inc., a Portsmouth, NH based consulting firm has provided program development and training support to the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program (NGYCP), an intensive residential program for vulnerable youth who have dropped out of high school and face unemployment. NGYCP operates more than 35 programs located in 27 U.S. states and 1 territory. Since its 1993 launch, the program has produced more than 110,000 graduates.
A pivotal element of NGYCP has been its mentoring component; Youth Initiated Mentoring (YIM), an innovative approach developed by DMT to help participants achieve the goals they set for themselves after they return to their communities. YIM offers participants sustainable, effective mentors by allowing the youth to select their own mentor, thereby building on the strengths of these natural relationships and drawing on mentors already embedded in youth’s social networks, potentially contributing to more enduring relationships.
Impressively, three new peer-reviewed studies demonstrate the benefits of NGYCP and the promise of YIM. On a practical level, YIM mentors are more likely to live in the same neighborhoods or communities as their mentees, facilitating consistent contact. Additionally, natural mentors are likely to be connected to youth in capacities beyond that of a formal mentoring relationship (e.g., extended family member, neighbor, teacher), increasing opportunities to spend time together, and remaining connected even beyond the requirements of the mentoring program. Moreover, YIM provides a structure to develop and strengthen existing relationships and supports within communities.
Studies are showing that three years after entering the program, participants yield strong positive impacts on educational, employment and behavioral outcomes, with older participants generally showing greater benefits than younger participants. One recent randomized evaluation of the NGYCP program showed a range of positive outcomes for participants (Millenky, Schwartz, & Rhodes, 2012). Using a multi-year, design, the evaluation included over a thousand adolescents (ages 16-18) of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds from 10 NGYCP sites across the country. Further investigation revealed that the more enduring mentoring relationships were associated with increased retention of educational, employment, and behavioral outcomes at the three year follow up, while youth who were no longer in contact with their mentors at the 21-month follow up showed no significant positive impacts at the three year follow up, relative to the control group (Schwartz, Rhodes, Spencer, & Grossman, 2013).
More recently, an in-depth qualitative study (Spencer, Tugenberg, Ocean, Schwartz, & Rhodes (in press)) revealed that YIM produces enduring and emotionally supportive relationships, by deepening existing ties with adults and, in some cases, by creating new ones. “This sort of research provides traction for an approach that can make significant strides for youth-support programs previously struggling with mentor matches and a host of related program challenges,” endorsed Van Patten. “The implications for our youth, for the mentoring field, for community involvement and integration are inspiring.”
Together, these studies provide the first systematic evidence of the effectiveness of YIM relationships. Although further research is needed to investigate the impacts of YIM, the findings suggest that YIM may be a new and effective mentoring model for vulnerable adolescents. “On a practical level, YIM could reduce the cost of recruiting volunteers and serve as a strategy for redressing the dearth of volunteer mentors” commented Jean Rhodes, Director of the Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring. “In addition, results suggest that YIM relationships may help to address the challenge of prematurely terminating relationships faced by traditional mentoring programs.” And, as the results suggest, YIM may be an effective means of attenuating erosion of effects in residential programs, allowing communities to recognize, harness, and develop the internal social capital and cultural wealth available to youth within their communities.”