The University of Georgia has launched MENTOR Georgia to support young people across the state by bringing together the mentoring community, providing programs and access to leadership and professional development, and raising the profile of the importance of mentoring.
Coordinated by the UGA J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, MENTOR Georgia is the newest statewide affiliate of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, which aims to help youth do better in class and enter the workforce better prepared to succeed and grow into leadership roles in their communities.
“Developing strong relationships through effective mentoring programs is key to building stronger communities,” said Matt Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute, a UGA Public Service and Outreach unit. “Putting leadership into practice, mentors not only provide support for youth, they help connect young people to where they live and encourage them to get involved, growing the next generation of leaders so vital to sustaining communities.”
Studies show that one of the most important factors in a child’s success is having an adult other than a family member who believes in and encourages them, said Leslie Hale, MENTOR Georgia executive director.
“The data are clear: youth facing risks who have a mentor are 55 percent more likely to enroll in college, 78 percent more likely to volunteer regularly in their communities, and more than twice as likely to hold a leadership position in a club or sports team,” Hale said. “Despite this, one in three young people do not have a mentor.”
While mentoring programs exist throughout the state, a 2017 report on youth mentoring in Georgia, released by the UGA Fanning Institute, indicated that coverage gaps exist.
“Rural areas in particular face challenges in obtaining the resources needed to build and sustain mentoring programs,” Hale said. “In addition, there is a need for more mentors of color and for additional support to help current mentoring programs keep up with increasing demand.”
The report also showed that organizations need support to implement best practices and ensure mentoring programs are effective.
For example, two-thirds of programs in Georgia expected a mentor-mentee relationship to remain in place for at least one year. However, 42 percent of programs reported matches lasting less than 10 months and a majority of programs reported that mentor-mentee matches terminating early was an occasional or common occurrence.
“Research shows when a mentor-mentee relationship ends earlier than expected, it can have a negative effect on the young person,” Hale said. “Organizations understand the importance of that long-term commitment to the relationship, but need support in building the organizational capacity to make that happen, and that is where we come in.”
Utilizing the resources of the National Mentoring Partnership and the UGA Fanning Institute, MENTOR Georgia will focus on identifying the resources and partners to build mentoring programs in communities that do not currently have them; helping current programs implement best practices and develop new tools and resources to better recruit, train and support mentors; and providing professional and leadership development to mentoring organizations.
“The Fanning Institute has the resources and expertise to support communities in building successful, sustainable mentoring programs,” Bishop said. “MENTOR Georgia will serve as an outlet to connect communities and organizations to these resources.”
Meanwhile, Hale brings to the job years of experience working with youth in the nonprofit sector. She previously served as the first-ever executive director of Books for Keeps, an Athens, Georgia-based nonprofit that creates at-home libraries for children in low-income communities. During her time with the organization, she grew the program four-fold, expanding its reach into schools across Athens-Clarke County and four surrounding counties.
“I saw firsthand how children benefit directly not just from reading, but from seeing that there are caring adults outside of their immediate circumstances who want to connect with them and support them,” Hale said. “I also understand the unique challenges that youth-serving organizations encounter and look forward to working with programs to build their capacity and elevate their work.”
Since June, MENTOR Georgia has already presented at youth conferences, established a virtual monthly meeting with mentoring providers throughout Georgia, connected with United Way affiliates and begun developing a strategic plan.
“Our goal is to help communities across Georgia build and sustain quality mentoring programs to develop the future leaders of our state,” Hale said. “Having a mentor can change a child’s life, and all children should have that opportunity.”
For more information on MENTOR Georgia, click here