By August 22, 2013 2 Comments Read More →

Practice Corner: What is the role of natural mentoring?

Marty Martinezby Marty Martinez  

As an advocate for quality-based mentoring that includes evidence based practices and strategies, I continue to be faced with the question of what role does informal mentoring or natural mentoring relationships have at our table. Time and time again, programs are faced with the need to recruit more caring adults to match with youth in need and programs are always looking to have an effectively managed program model that is not only structured but operates to reach the best outcomes possible. But in many communities where formal mentoring either does not exist or where the capacity of those formal programs prevents the need from being met, many questions are raised about the role that the informal mentoring that is happening in youth development programs or other youth serving agencies play in our work. More and more community partners and schools look to these less formalized programs to bring needed services and resources into the community. Furthermore, research continues to suggest that the natural mentors that exist in the lives of young people can and should be leveraged and supported to maximize the benefits that can come with that relationship.

Especially in communities of color, we continue to hear the need for more adult mentors of color to work with formal programs while many of them may already exist in the life of young person in need in an informal way. All of this is to say that the mentoring movement that we all are a part of must figure out how to support the informal mentoring that is already happening and discover new ways strengthen it and connect it to our formal efforts. As practioners it can be easy to dismiss “mentoring like” efforts by other youth providers or agencies providing direct service to youth as something that falls short of actually providing mentoring to those youth in need. But we must look at what those agencies are doing that is working and that is bringing caring adults into the lives of young people and figure out how to support it and leverage it. As a partnership that works with over 200 different mentoring programs across Massachusetts, we see incredibly effective, highly formal mentoring programs making a big difference in the lives of youth. But we also see powerful youth development programs and services that are meeting important needs of young people as well as bringing caring and consistent adults into their lives. The opportunity that exists to collaborate, resource share and create connections that can be leveraged to strengthen our communities cannot be dismissed. There is a role for informal mentoring and the need to leverage the natural mentors that exist in a young persons’ life to continue to shape our efforts and grow them. From funders to schools, from families to other community institutions, our stakeholders are asking for us to do more to make these connections and continue to advance our movement to ensure that every young person has a caring, consistent and supported adult in their life. It’s a movement that must have everyone at the table.

2 Comments on "Practice Corner: What is the role of natural mentoring?"

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  1. Barnaby Spring says:

    I appreciate these comments very much. My own experience has shown that many informal mentors sometimes are wary more formalized mentoring relationships. It’s a complex issue. Again, it speaks to what the overalll goal is. To some this is a non-issue. The overal goal is to help our youth find effective ways to live healty, meaningful lives. But that might be the rub What can we all agree is a healthy and meaningful life? As a boy growing up at Father Flanagan’s Boys Town who loved studying the history of the home, I found it somewhat remarkabel that Father Flanaan was quite wary of accepting goernment funding for his home or boys. Government funding meant government mandates. Private funding meant private mandates. Sometimes the mandates are at odds with the goals of those who would mentor youth in authentic and meaningful ways. Sometimes those work work with kids informally shy away from the formalized methods of mentoring due to suspicions that are either rooted in fear and confusion or that are well founded. In myy work as an attendance manager in NYC looking at Success Mentor models we see potential for such mentoring and we see ongoing challenges for and to expanding this program in ways that compliment and support the informal kinds of mentoring relationships that play in a big role in getting our kids to school in NYC.

    • Evan Cutler says:

      Barnaby Spring, thank you for all your comments! I’m enjoying reading everything you’ve been contributing lately.

      It seems most people are in agreement that organizations/researchers should be exploring ways to support natural mentoring relationships. However, I have yet to hear anyone talk in detail about *how* we should do this. I’ll be very interested to see when/if any practitioners and/or researchers lay the groundwork for an evidence-based pilot program or outreach effort that attempts to answer this call to action. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the model of Youth-Initiated Mentoring may be possible answer as to how mentoring programs can leverage many of the strengths of natural mentoring relationships.

      – Evan Cutler, Assoc. Editor

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