Mentors Lead Support Group at Youth Building Alternatives

By Eric A. Moynihan, Mentor Coordinator, Youth Building Alternatives at LearningWorks

The seeds of the Mentor Support Group were planted over a year ago. Our Youth Building Alternatives program has a wonderfully committed corporate partner that provides resources to our students on several levels. They have provided six mentors over the last two years as we have worked on developing a workplace mentoring program. Having students come to an insurance company once a week created some issues and did not always go well. The consensus was that all interested parties needed to get together and brainstorm a better mouse trap. It worked and the relationship has strengthened and the mentees are better off because of it.

A year later a very active mentor and jobsite volunteer not associated with the above mentioned corporation suggested that it might be a good idea to encourage the gathering of mentors to allow for an exchange of ideas, concerns, gripes and best practices to better serve the program. Because of the success of the meeting held with the corporate mentors, we encouraged the idea of this mentor’s proposed support group.

The program director, our VISTA associate, and I have welcomed this mentor’s leadership in this activity. We help with communication and logistics but the lead is in the hands of the mentors.

The group has met three times since March 2012 at a local restaurant. Each time there has been a Youth Building Alternative staff member at the meetings. There is no set agenda. As people introduce themselves they usually have a few things to say, questions to ask, or concerns to share. It is very informal and relaxed.

The positive result of these meetings is that the mentors feel a part of something important, not alone, connected, supported and the realization that their concerns or worries are generally similar to each others. Also, it is a good time to further explain the program’s support system that is in place to help mentors with their concerns.

The group has resulted in very little extra work for the Mentor Team. I try to have pertinent informational handouts available at each meeting. For example, last month I made copies of the new Community of Practice guide that was presented at the Training Institute in Orlando. Attendance is generally 5 to 8 mentors at each meeting. The Agency buys a few appetizers (no more than $20 to $30) and the mentors buy their own drinks – coffee, wine, or beer. The meetings are usually about an hour and a half to two hours.
I would recommend this type of support group to any agency but to be the most effective the leadership and direction must come from the mentors themselves.