Frequently asked questions for prospective Blue Ribbon mentors. If you have a question that isn’t answered here, please feel free to contact us.
What do I actually do with my mentee when I see him/her?
We suggest that you start out by just doing some fun things that you both like while you get to know each other. Many mentors like to explore museums, libraries, and other kid-friendly places with their mentees. Some people choose activities like making puzzles, scrapbooks, or art projects. Sports and recreation activities are often very popular as well. Many mentors have their mentee come to their house for a meal and some casual activities each week, and plan special activities once a month or so. Our program also plans group activities for mentors and mentees six times per year.
What are the mentees like?
We look for children who have some untapped potential in an academic, social, physical, or other area. We select children who relate well to adults. The students come from a variety of family backgrounds, but most are African-American and live in low-income families. Over half of our students come from single-parent families, but others live with two parents, grandparents, foster families, or other guardians.
What kind of person makes the best mentor?
We want mentors who are consistent and caring. If you’re good at relating to kids, then you can probably be a great mentor. Our goal is to help you be the best mentor you can be by matching you with the best mentee for you.
How old are the students in the program?
Students enter our program during the fourth grade (about age 10). We make a commitment to support them until they graduate from high school. Sometimes a mentor will work with a student for that entire time, but other times the child will have more than one mentor.
Do the kids and their parents want to be in this program?
Yes. We carefully screen all families to determine their interest and willingness to participate. Parents are very excited about the possibility of having a mentor work with their child. The children feel that it is a privilege to have a mentor.
How do you decide which child to match me with?
We try to get as much information from you as possible in order to make a good match. What type of child would you like to be matched with? Primarily, we consider the interests the two of you already share. We always match male mentors with boys and female mentors with girls.
Am I too young or too old to mentor?
All mentors must be at least 21 years old, and we have had volunteers who have mentored into their eighties. What matters more to us than your age is your ability to to maintain a consistent commitment to working with your mentee over a period of several years. Most of our mentors are either young professionals without kids or empty nesters and retirees. What do they have in common? They don’t have any kids in their home, but do want a young person in their life.
What will my interaction be with the student’s parent(s), teachers, and other school personnel?
As an effective mentor-advocate we encourage you to form a team with the parent and child to work on advocating for resources and services to help the child. We will train you to work with your mentee’s school and other resource providers. Many mentors say they feel this is the part of their role where they make the “biggest difference” in the child’s life.
Why does this program require a one-year commitment?
Based on our experience and the research on mentoring, we believe it takes at least one year to form a really strong relationship with a child and make a significant difference in their life. Our one-year commitment is also strategic for students who are new to our program, because it allows them to work with one mentor up to their transition to middle school – a very important time in their life.
How much time do I really have to commit? What if I can’t see my mentee every week?
Most mentors say they put an average of 2-4 hours a week into their relationship, sometimes more. We know that most people can’t do this every week, and vacations and other obligations are part of life. It’s important to be consistent in your commitment to spend time with your mentee, but if you can’t make the commitment once in a while, just make sure he or she understands why.
What can I do if I just don’t have that much time?
One option is to think about mentoring as a couple. You and your spouse/partner could share the responsibilities of a mentoring relationship and decrease the time commitment. Or you could consider volunteering as a tutor for one hour a week. If you want to help, we can usually find a way to involve you!
Can I include my own kids in mentoring?
Absolutely. Understandably, we don’t have very many mentors who are currently raising school-aged children. Those who do have found it very rewarding to incorporate their mentee into their family’s life.
What support will I get if I have questions or need help?
Many mentors say one of the strengths of our program is how much support we provide. All mentors receive comprehensive training before they meet their mentees. After training, your primary contact is the Family Specialist (a social worker) at your mentee’s school. The Program Coordinator is also available for ongoing consultation. We have monthly mentor support group meetings and a variety of mentor training programs throughout the year.
What options do I have if the relationship is not working out?
Sometimes this happens. We try everything we can to work things out, but we are not perfect in our matchmaking. If you and your mentee come to an impasse, we try to find opportunities to meet both of your needs. We will work to find you another match and find him or her another mentor.
How do I know if I’m doing a good job?
Exposing a child to a new culture, teaching them a new skill, and helping them study for a test are all examples of successes you might experience. Just being an every day role model can impact a child more than you realize. However, some of your success will only be known in the long run. Will your mentee go on to college because of your influence? Maybe. Most importantly, are you and your mentee enjoying your relationship? If you can answer yes to that question, then you are both successful!