Start A Mentoring Program in Your Community


Today’s world is difficult for any child to navigate. Just read the headlines of any newspaper to see the confusing line between right and wrong. More importantly, there is a whole other sector of children that also need to be developed physically and emotionally AND become job-trained: Special Needs. Over the past few years, the importance of training these well-equipped children is on the rise. They are energetic, good task followers, pleasant to others, reliable, dedicated employees. There are SO many positive reasons to train and hire the special needs population. Gone are the days where people had a negative view of the capabilities of disabled people. In this day and age, you may have a Down’s Syndrome sibling, have a few students in your gym class with Asperger’s or have a neighbor on the Autism spectrum. The school districts are already providing alternate learning plans and differentiated classes. Some have work-study programs that provide special needs students with part time jobs at local merchants and organizations. If we are to keep our economy growing and produce more satisfied workers in the work place, there is a large need to train a whole population of some of the best workers organizations will find—and it all starts with a mentoring program. Watch how both the mentor and mentee will benefit! Here’s how you can begin the most worthwhile work you could ever imagine. It’s easier than you think to start a mentoring program in your community.

Why Mentoring?

Employers use mentoring programs as a way to increase employee satisfaction and retention. It’s internally rewarding to groom another person in the workplace. Universities celebrate high job placement rates and create active alumni with mentoring, therefore increasing student enrollment. Even high schools and middle schools empower young students, create future leaders and, most importantly, teach tolerance and acceptance through organized mentor programs.

Outline Your Program

Why are you planning this program, who is it for? What would success look like at the end of the program for the participants? By answering these simple questions, you are unfolding your target audience. Who will your organization mentor and why? What are their needs and what are the objectives of the program you are designing? These motivating factors will also draw mentors to your program and support your cause. As you plan, make sure the vision of your program can follow.

SMART objectives:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-related

To ensure complete success for both the mentee and mentors, your program will need this structure but flexibility is also key. If you enroll enough mentors, maybe they don’t need to attend each and every single Saturday or maybe the mentors can choose the mentee skill they will train. Everyone has their strengths and your program is more successful the more they are utilized.

Consider these questions as well:

  1. How do we enroll mentees? Through a sign up at school, posters throughout the community, website application, personal invitation?
  2. How will we mentor? Showing mentees skills, having the mentee show mentors what they currently know?
  3. How will we connect with the mentee? One on one, small specific groups, one large project (as seen in larger internship type programs)
  4. How long is our program? Single session, short term (a few weeks) or long term (a few months)? This is will help determine the kind of commitment needed from mentors.
  5. How will we bring our program to the community proving the enhanced social aspects of mentoring, reporting our needs and tracking our success? Can we use ambassadors of our program to generate necessary funding, assistance and public relations.

Recruiting Participants

There are two parts to recruiting: mentors and mentees. In order to attract the best/right mentors, your program plan must be organized and as specific as you need to be. Your needs may be that mentors must have some type of specific training or you may just want open hearts that care to spend quality time with mentees. Whatever level of experience is required, you will market in the correct spot for the training you need. Don’t just expect people to knock down your door because your mentoring program sounds wonderful, there must be clear benefits for mentors to understand which will be the hook they need to register.

Once you identify who your mentors will be, the additional step is creating positive reinforcement for them to be convinced this is worth their time and energy so they commit to being reliable. Usually, mentors are busy and sometimes overcommitted people with limited ‘free’ time. How can you attract them to your program in the most efficient way?

Example: In a high school swim mentoring program where competitive swimmers teach water skills to special needs children, the mentors TIME is key. Usually competitive swimmers are top students requiring evening study time, participate in 1-2 evening swim practices a day and compete in swim meets around the state every weekend. Our famous saying is “the best thing about our program is that our mentors are competitive swimmers and the worst thing about our program is that our mentors are competitive swimmers”. By recruiting (at least) double the amount of mentors needed per mentee will allow for weekly rotations and coverage when one of the many teams some of the mentors compete for has a large meet on mentoring day. If everyone DOES show one week, multiple mentors can provide small group lessons. Learn to work with the overscheduled yet interested mentors you register. Building a solid base of committed mentors is always a challenge.

Develop a meaningful reward and recognition program for mentors (your mentees will naturally have rewards). There are tracking systems for hours dedicated, scholarship applications for community service, Presidential awards for service—find an appropriate award. The mentoring program leader should ALWAYS write a personalized recommendation letter for each mentor to use as needed for a job, school or scholarship application use. Include personal growth witnessed or special skills used throughout the mentoring program that made an impact. Details like this will drive future participation of very impressive mentors.

In order to improve the quality of your mentoring program and continually attract additional mentors you can groom into outstanding mentors, provide training. The more your mentors understand about the mentees and how to connect with them, the stronger your program becomes in every way.

Example: In order for our talented swimming mentors to understand the special needs children they will work with, have mentors attempt simple tasks with socks on their hands to understand some physical challenges or muffle their hearing with headphones or overload their sensory perception with too much noise to understand processing disorders. Making it a REAL experience for the mentor can drive them to approach their mentee in a different fashion for a deeper connection. Once the mentee TRUSTS the mentor, that’s when the learning (a.k.a. MAGIC!) can begin!

Pairing Mentors and Mentees

Matching two individuals can be challenging but it is also KEY. A meaningful connection can launch your mentoring program to successes you haven’t even considered yet! There is much to consider when pairing a mentor of a certain skill level/competency, background and teaching style with right person who will absorb the training. In certain situations, self-pairing might work well. Sometimes a mentee knows the type of mentor they would prefer. Whatever plan is chosen, keep flexibility in mind for any adjustments that may be needed.

Begin by collecting profiles of your mentees. Simple information provided at registration may quickly determine how or who you will pair together. Some profile elements might include:

  • Developmental goals
  • Specific interests
  • Preferences in background, gender or skills

Mentoring Evaluation

Once your mentoring program is in full swing, it’s time to evaluate what is truly going on. At this crucial time, some connections can be stuck, some took off thriving and some are lost. Review your goals and action plans. Break the plan down to what will be accomplished at the next or this current session. Report progress among mentors to stay aligned and focused. At the end of each session, encourage mentors and mentees to communicate what they liked and what needs work.

Example: As mentees arrive to the pool, our mentors meet just outside the pool in the hallway to review pairings, discuss goals for the session, discuss road blocks and successes and share ideas on removing negative behavior/hinderances. Mentors then enter the pool, find their mentee and explain the goals or plan of the session. At the end of the session, mentors follow swimmers to their parents and report successes and communicate any issues with parents. Tips on how to handle certain situations directly from the parent are key for the mentor. This feedback makes a better relationship each session!

Quantifying Your Mentoring Program

How does anyone understand the impact your program makes? How do you articulate the impact your program has made on the individual, the school, the organization, the community? Quality mentoring must have structure, regular management and value the time of all participants. How do you assess the program to identify areas of growth and weakness?

To track the return on investment, the program needs evaluation from different angles: the program itself, the mentoring connections and the individual. At the program level, building metrics around established business objectives is always best. They are easy to understand, relatable and useful. How many participants ‘graduated’ and where did they go, what did they accomplish? Conversion metrics can also be notable. Report the progress participants make from enrollment through conclusion of the program. This data can be very valuable when fundraising—show your statistics to local organizations like a Rotary Club and they are sure to support.

The mentoring connection will have very important data. Here is where you want to identify strengths and weaknesses, failures and successes, road blocks and future opportunities. This is the “meat” of the program and truly what brings your mentees back or drives increased future participation. You need to evaluate skills, talents and teaching methods of the mentors. Is trust built between mentor and mentee so that the time investment of both parties was valuable? What adjustments need to be made? What successes can be shared among mentors to propel more individual success?

As for the mentees, what impact did the program provide? What positive outcomes can be recorded? What program feedback do they have? Survey your participants—quick questionnaire, online survey link (similar to Survey Monkey that tracks data), exit interviews. Did the program meet their goals and needs? What suggestions do they have to improve?

By following this logical plan to developing your own mentoring program, you will be assured to have a solid start. The program feedback from mentors and mentees will mold your organization into its most useful and successful format. But the most rewarding aspects can fully be measured. What more important role is there than for experienced, knowledgeable people to train and teach young minds?! Once you change a life, pulling that arrow back for shot, measuring trajectory could be a very large job!

About ilink2media

iLink2Media is an International online platform that specializes in spotlighting the art of giving back. We are dedicated to promoting, encouraging and supporting Global Citizenship from Philanthropists, Executives, Politicians, World Leaders and Celebrities that relentlessly uplift various communities and make a positive impact on the lives of others.

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