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By Tami Silverman, President & CEO, Indiana Youth Institute

Kids and youth thrive when they have caring and supportive adults in their lives, and mentoring offers an outstanding way to foster such relationships. January is National Mentoring Month, and throughout the month Indiana Youth Institute will celebrate individuals and programs providing quality mentoring relationships to young people, especially at-risk youth.

Mentors help the kids with whom they interact to face the day-to-day challenges of growing up. Through their words and deeds, they assure young people that there is someone who cares about them and demonstrate that all mentees matter. Research shows that quality mentoring relationships produce positive results in the lives of mentees, including improving school attendance rates and increasing the child’s chances for future success.

While all children and youth can benefit from a quality mentoring relationship, at-risk kids realize the biggest benefits. With a mentor, at-risk youth are 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school and are 55% more likely to be enrolled in college. The same students are 46% less likely than their peers to use drugs while also being 81% more likely to report regular participation in sports or extracurricular activities. At-risk youth with a mentor are 78% more likely to volunteer regularly within their community and are an outstanding 130% more likely to hold a leadership position on teams and/or in clubs.

While these benefits are clear, one in three young people grow up without a mentor outside their family. This mentoring gap equates to 9 million young people without a mentor outside their family to assist them as they mature into adulthood. As the state affiliate of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, IYI’s MENTOR Indiana program strives to connect potential mentees and mentors with quality mentoring programs across Indiana.

Quality mentoring programs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Big Brothers Big Sisters, started in 1904, is the most well-known mentoring program, providing screening, training, matching and support for thousands of mentees each year. Some programs, like College Mentors for Kids, focus on specific groups, in this case college students, to serve as mentors. Many faith-based mentoring programs have long understood the value of providing young people with support beyond their family members.

While these programs each approach mentoring from differing perspectives, the key to all quality mentoring programs is a shared understanding that successful mentoring requires standards, structure and commitment. A checklist of the Elements of Effective Practice for MentoringTM can be found at www.mentoring.org.

One of the goals of National Mentoring Month is to recruit volunteer mentors. Anyone can search for local mentoring opportunities by going to the Mentoring Connector available at www.iyi.org/mentor-indiana and entering their zip code. This free volunteer referral service is the only national database of quality mentoring programs, and its quick search tool takes the guesswork out of selecting a local volunteer opportunity.

Mentoring is a critical component in young people’s lives, helping them make the decisions and connections that lead to improved opportunities in the future. Adult mentors cross racial, economic, and other bridges to mentor young people outside their families, and more than four out of every five adults surveyed agree that mentoring is a wise long-term investment. Furthermore, those receiving mentorship want to pay these benefits forward, as 90% of youth mentees indicate interest in becoming future mentors themselves.

We all benefit when our children are connected, motivated and hopeful, and mentoring helps grow and nurture responsible, engaged and future-oriented young people. In 2019, take a step to support tomorrow’s leaders. Become a mentor or support a quality mentoring program.

(Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, and communities that are focused on kids and youth.)