In 1999, then IMA Board member, Dr. Charles Sadberry of Fort Worth, Texas, responded to a need he saw for linking successful interested men in his community as mentors to boys who needed role models, skilled guidance, a friend, and emotional, spiritual, and academic encouragement and support. To address this need, Dr. Sadberry founded and still leads the Highland Hills Interested Men Youth Mentoring Program, now in it’s 11th year of operation.
- The mentoring program is community based.
- We recruit men from the community to mentor boys ages 7-15 years of age that are being raised by single females. These females could be young mothers or they could be Aunts and Grandmothers.
- The male volunteers undergo a criminal background check which we have accomplish through a strategic alliance with the local Volunteer Center for a $100 lifetime fee. Background checks are done within the State of Texas, not nationally.
- The program forbids any house visitations or visits “off property with mentees” with some exceptions.
- Most of our mentoring is done at the local recreation center where we have developed programing that brings the youth into the center around our men.
Ten Insights and Recommendations for Best Practice
The Highland Hills Interested Men Youth Mentoring Program was not Charles’ first community effort. He has been involved in community service for over 38 years and he also had previously developed and implemented a youth mentoring program for the City of Fort Worth in 1993.
As readers might hope, this experience has given Charles many insights which youth and other community-based mentoring folks and mentor leaders in every setting will find worth reading. These are based on a letter Charles recently sent this editor.
1. Make the youth mentoring program community-based.
2. Make every aspect of program development, implementation, and evaluation community-based.
3. Doing so:
A. Makes the process more collaborative, and so, more time-consuming;
B. Develops the community members into program advocates, fund raisers, and mentors;
C. Educates and develops mentoring expertise in the community members;
D. Creates program and mentoring advocates across the community;
E. Increases mentoring across the community, way beyond the original program.
4. Mentoring programs have to constantly reinvent themselves to stay healthy and relevant.
As an example, we have shifted from a solely mentor-focused program to also include improving the interest and knowledge of our students in math and reading through tutoring by local school district certified teachers on Mondays and Wednesdays.
5. Mix the primary focus with occasional “fun” activities.
This mix attracts and retains mentees and strengthens the mentor-mentee connection, while maintaining the multiple points of focus. For example, in addition to the tutoring and academic improvement focus, we also use museum visits, trips to sports venues, purely recreational events such as fishing excursions and basketball tournaments, and the regular activities available at the recreation center where our mentors and mentees regularly meet.
6. Form strategic alliances with other community agencies that are invested in youth. This leads to shared costs and a richer set of program options.
7. Recruiting mentors is always challenging because some men won’t allow background checks. Also, mentoring is perceived by some as too much of a personal sacrifice and commitment. This is especially true in disadvantaged communities where working overtime or two jobs is common for the men we are seeking.
8. One of the best mentor recruiting opportunities are communities that have large armed forces bases. It is very difficult to get in and even more of a challenge to get to the right person, but when you do, the dividends are awesome.
9. Another challenge is the cost cutting of community programs and centers. Counter this by writing grants from local and other family and corporate foundations so your funding is diversified.
10. Volunteer your own time outside your own program in other community projects. You will gain broader support, critical contacts with other community leaders, spread the good word about your own work in mentoring, and find many persons who can become donors and your Board members.