Mentoring is a Civic Change Necessity

By: Joe Berney


White House Recognition for Networking For Youth (NFY)

Joe Berney is the President of Eugene, Oregon’s branch of the nationally recognized
organization, Networking for Youth. Mr. Berney was selected by the White House to act as representative for Eugene’s program at the President’s Summit for America’s Future, chaired by General Colin Powell, April 27-29, 1997 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

The Summit was organized on the proposition that to lead productive lives, children need the following:

  • an on-going relationship with a caring adult
  • safe places and…
  • structured after-school activities
  • a healthy start
  • a marketable skill through effective education; and…
  • an opportunity to give back through community service.

Mentoring to Make a Difference

Mentoring has emerged in communities across the nation as a way for individuals
to feel they can make a difference. While the staggering complexity of urban issues can frustrate the will to act, mentoring programs provide citizens with a vehicle to connect with their communities, affect individual lives, and develop a framework for civic action.

Networking for Youth in Eugene, Oregon

Eugene, Oregon is one community intent on reaping the benefits of a comprehensive
mentoring approach. Concerned with increasing drop-out rates and high-risk behaviors among young people, civic leaders initiated a community-wide mentoring program overseen by Networking for Youth (NFY) in 1993.

NFY is a citizen-based approach to reclaiming area youth. Our Mentoring Initiative
creates networks of support for each child so that upon graduation they have skills, connections, work and community service experiences enabling responsible citizenship. These networks of support include a mentor, but also the additional resources of support a mentor might be able to provide:

  • friends
  • employers
  • civic leaders, etc.

Bring Together the Entire Community

Toward this end, NFY articulated a message that is being used to rally all sectors of our community around keeping kids engaged and connecting them to local opportunities by:

  • creating new and exciting mentoring opportunities for individuals, organizations, and groups that heretofore have not considered mentoring;
  • leveraging local resources (people, organizations, churches, businesses, labor
    unions, parents, equipment and money) for support;
  • reallocating existing resources;
  • making education a part of the civic change, i.e., part of the community-building process;
  • inspiring others (both in and out of our community) to action regarding opening up opportunities for adults to give back, and changing organizational cultures.

Mentoring became a vehicle to position ourselves to address this larger opportunity.
Networking for Youth has created what has now become a Lane County agenda for
mentoring. This agenda has been realized in large part because the vision was global in nature and our approach was not to create or eliminate turf, but to neutralize it and coordinate the efforts of good people by connecting adults and opportunities with youth in our community.

Where We Started & How We Proceeded

Before embarking on our Initiative, Networking for Youth surveyed teams from every high school in the Eugene, Springfield, and Bethel School Districts. Each identified the percentage of their student populations that could benefit from a personal relationship with a caring and responsible adult (i.e., a mentor). Our finding was that 96% of those needing a mentor did not have one.

Networking for Youth was committed to was operating a high quality, professionally
run mentoring program, and concurrently inspire and help others to do the same. NYF hoped to develop mechanisms to coordinate efforts so that scarce resources could be efficiently utilized and more young people engaged. The Lane County Mentoring Consortium is now reality and represents groups from all over the county which have never worked together before, as well as the inclusion of new programs Networking for Youth has facilitated.

The function of these groups working together is to:

  • establish mentoring standards and practices
  • coordinate certain functions such as marketing, recruitment, orientation training, and criminal background checks on volunteers;
  • generate a streamlined system for people to volunteer to be mentors and be matched with the kind of young people they want.

With the same resources, this allows more and more youth and adults to benefit from mentoring relationships.

Our initial vehicle has been mentoring. Our strategy was to demonstrate that mentoring could act as catalyst for other organizations to facilitate mentors for their youth. This is how we hope to move the opportunity to scale from 60 matches in 1994, to 300 in 1996, to 1,000 by the year 2000.

The Results

In Eugene, Oregon and other parts of Lane County, mentoring has been used as a
vehicle to create work experiences for youth; change corporate policies to include
mentorship opportunities for area youth; give training and technical assistance to the social service community; and create new mentoring programs in churches and community groups.