“Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill.
Youthwork is hard. It’s one of those areas of life where it’s really difficult to measure the impact of your work. This means that you can go months and even years investing into young people without knowing the full impact of your investment.
When I was running a Pupil Referral Unit for a school in South London, and mentoring a few specific students within that, the day in day out role of encouraging those young people and remaining positive was exhausting! Because I was able to see them gradually achieve academically, and help some of them even achieve their GCSE’s and get into college, I had concrete proof that the effort I was putting in was worth it and that it was helping these young people in some way.
Mentoring can be very hard too, especially for volunteers with not much youthwork experience. They can often feel like they are putting in the consistent hours, but wonder what difference they’re actually making. It can be discouraging to invest personal time into someone else without positive feedback.
There has been some brilliant research done recently, called The Role of Risk, on formal mentoring programmes in the United States (and you can read the full comprehensive summary on it here). The researches cited 2 major reasons why mentors become discouraged and give up on mentoring: 1) a lack of interest from the mentee and 2) feeling like they weren’t making a difference.
The findings also demonstrated that the most successful formal mentoring programmes are those which provide training for their mentors, regular supervision from coordinators, and extra support for volunteers mentoring high-risk young people.
XL-Mentoring believes that group activities and regular feedback are crucial to making a formal mentoring programme a success. In addition, we also require our mentors to conduct termly evaluations with their mentees. We have had some amazing stories about the impact that these evaluations have had on our mentors, mentees, parents, teachers, and even our Coordinators! Mentors can go for a few months feeling like they are not getting through to the young person, but when the teacher or parents completes the evaluation, they can see first hand the changes, developments, and differences that are happening as a result of their mentoring. And when some of the evaluations show a decline in behaviour or grades or attitudes, our monthly supervisions, group activities, and mentor support groups provide that positive encouragement and feedback that mentors need.
The key role of a mentoring project coordinator is to help their mentors persevere despite their doubts, to give positive feedback based on concrete evidence, to foster a team spirit, and create opportunities where the young person is engaged and can have memorable experiences with their mentor. According to the Role of Risk, when a formal mentoring project is successful, the young people being mentored report fewer depressive symptoms, greater acceptance by their peers, more positive beliefs about their ability to succeed, and better grades in school.
Churches can feel apprehensive about engaging with young people who are especially at risk, with good reason. But with the right structures in place, such as those that XL-Mentoring teaches and promotes, mentoring relationships can be life giving. As stated in the report:
While these youth are often viewed through the lens of likely future costs to their communities, they also embody enormous unrealized potential. With the right kinds of support, these young people could put themselves on a path toward bright, productive futures, and make vital contributions to their families, neighbourhoods and nation. Many hope that mentoring programs can help make this vision a reality.
Our vision is to see every vulnerable young person in the UK have a mentor, and not only that, but to provide mentors with the structure, support, and feedback that they need to thrive at and enjoy mentoring a young person. If you are interested in learning more, please join us at one of our regional training days. We’d love to share our enthusiasm with you.