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The Mentoring Effect

by David B. Shapiro and Wendy Spencer

This column was originally published on the Huffington Post Impact Blog on Jan. 31, 2014.

Can a simple mentoring relationship rescue a life in peril? In a world with few easy solutions, there are innumerable stories -- and a new survey -- that demonstrate this could be possible. Let's start with one of these stories.

Dago was on the wrong path, choosing to hang out with his friends instead of attending classes at his Denver, Colo., school. Determined to prevent him from becoming another statistic in the nation's dropout crisis, Urban Education Service Corps AmeriCorps member Lily Gutierrez built a relationship with Dago and his family that altered his life's direction, including showing up at his home when he tried to cut school.

"Someone needed to pull him out, and take the time to know him, and make him realize his potential," said Gutierrez. Dago now has found a goal that encourages him to maintain a perfect attendance record and progress toward graduation.

A new report looks into the influence a mentoring relationship has on young people.Dago and Lily's story not only demonstrates the impact AmeriCorps members have on young people across the country every day but, according to new research, it also shows the importance of the mentoring connection. A new report informed by the first nationally representative survey of young people on the topic of mentoring, The Mentoring Effect , looks deeper into this topic.

The survey found that mentored youth set higher educational goals and are more likely to attend college. These positive outcomes are especially true for "opportunity youth" who are between the ages of 16 to 24 and are neither in school or employed. For example, youth at-risk for becoming disconnected in this way but who have a mentor are 55 percent more likely than those without a mentor to enroll in some type of postsecondary education, such as college or a trade school.

Helping these young Americans succeed is a national priority. Young adults who are not connected cost society $93 billion annually in lost wages, taxes, and social services. However, it is estimated that every dollar invested in quality youth mentoring programs yields a $3 return in benefits to society.

The Mentoring Effect report's findings stand as a powerful call to action to service and volunteerism this January as we celebrate the 13th annual National Mentoring Month and the 20th anniversary of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service.

Last year, the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that leads the MLK Day of Service and the Senior Corps and AmeriCorps programs, helped to facilitate more than 800,000 mentoring relationships for children and youth in partnership with mentoring programs across the country, providing stability and support during a critical time in these young people's lives.

Earlier this month, President Obama announced the Promise Zones Initiative to create jobs, increase economic security, and expand educational opportunities in distressed communities. Mentoring is one gateway to help deliver on this promise through investment in our young people.

Encouragingly, more and more people are volunteering in this way. An estimated 4.5 million at-risk youth will have a structured mentoring relationship while growing up. In the early '90s, an estimated 300,000 had this type of relationship. Despite the number who are now benefitting, The Mentoring Effect report shows that 1-in-3 young Americans, including an estimated 9 million opportunity youth, will reach adulthood without a mentor of any kind. A mentor could be the difference between staying in school or dropping out; engaging as a citizen or disconnecting from school, work, and civic life.

Let's make a promise to close the mentoring gap and ensure all young people have this powerful asset in their lives. As we celebrate National Mentoring Month and reflect upon what Dr. King taught us about service, let's unleash the power of the mentoring effect.

Thank a mentor, support a mentoring program, or become a mentor yourself. To find mentoring opportunities in your community, please visit www.serve.gov/mentor.

David B. Shapiro is the president and CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. He is also chair of the board of the Mass Nonprofit Network and on the boards of Common Impact and Friends of the Children-Boston. Wendy Spencer is the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

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