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Learn how to determine if a mentoring program is what you need.


Photo of multi-ethnic children in a circle.


One-on-one instruction, or mentoring, is one of the oldest forms of teaching. Our parents and grandparents are our earliest mentors; later, we may be mentored by--or act as mentors to--brothers, sisters, and friends.

Mentor programs work because they provide encouragement and guidance to each adolescent or child that participates. This introductory section offers a general discussion on the rationale behind such programs and outlines the advantages they provide. Reflection questions will help you decide if you want to begin a mentoring program, and an overview of the rest of the sections in the chapter is given.

What is a mentoring program?

Mentor or partnership programs connect people who have specific skills and knowledge (mentors) with individuals (protégés) who need or want the same skills and advantages to move up in work, skill level, or school performance. Participants in mentor programs, both young and old, share their values and personal goals in a mutually respectful, supportive way which leads to a more enriched life for both. A successful mentor program helps break down barriers and creates opportunities for success.

Why should you set up a mentor or partnership program?

There are many benefits of such programs for both the mentor and the protégés:

  • Among youth in mentoring programs, there have been recorded increases in:
    • Self-esteem
    • Regard for and comfort with members of other races
    • Ability to maintain positive relationships with other adults
    • Decision-making ability in the career-choice process
  • Mentoring programs may noticeably increase school attendance among mentees
  • Roles of non-familial adults in the lives of at-risk children have been shown to be beneficial in increasing resiliency and success
  • In programs that specialize in youth mentoring, people from outside a youth's everyday world cooperate to build positive assets for the youth, giving the community a stake in her or his future
  • Mentor programs open new opportunities and understanding for mentors and protégés 
  • Mentor programs offer a way to pass valuable skills and knowledge from person to person
  • Passing opportunities along from one person to another helps ensure that those living in a community have the ability to maintain and improve it
  • Mentors and role models have a chance to create a new relationship and enjoy successfully teaching someone something new

Good reasons for starting a mentor program

  • Mentoring builds self-esteem
  • The knowledge and alternatives gained through a partnership program allow teens and adults to explore different career possibilities not often available in a classroom or work setting
  • Mentor programs break down stereotypes surrounding certain professions and populations. Mentor relationships promote awareness of a community's diversity
  • Partnerships build teamwork, whether learning occurs in school or on the job. 

How do you decide whether to set up a mentor program?

Mentor programs set up learning/helping relationships between two adults, between an adult and an adolescent, or between two adolescents. The kind of mentoring program you choose will depend upon the goals your protégés want to accomplish, but the name of the game in all mentor programs is to increase opportunity and break down barriers.

When thinking about whether or not to establish a mentor program in a school, workplace, or neighborhood, answering the following questions can help you decide if it is the right idea for you.

  • What are the advantages of a mentor program over another strategy to get people involved with the community, young people, and their futures?
  • Is a mentor program an appropriate strategy for the population you want to reach?
  • What will youngsters, employees, or community members gain from having a mentor?

The next point to consider is the type of mentoring program you want. Three different types are possible: adolescent-adolescent, adult-adult, and adult-adolescent. Although this chapter focuses primarily on adult-adolescent (youth) programs, many of the skills discussed can be transferred to either of the other types of program.

Before going further, however, let's look at the different kinds of relationships that develop and activities to achieve protégés' goals in each of the three types of mentoring programs.

Adult-adolescent mentor programs:

  • Mentors provide adolescents with concentrated adult attention
  • Adults can model the importance of education, hard work, and responsibility as paths to success
  • Young protégés build self-confidence as they are accepted and supported
  • Adults experience the development of a meaningful relationship with a youth and the chance to teach
  • Adult mentors broaden adolescents' horizons and expose them to new experiences 

Adolescent-adolescent mentor programs:

  • Mentoring usually focuses on improving academic performance and school attendance
  • Students can provide peer tutoring, support and counseling
  • The grades of both student mentor and student protégé typically increase when combined with tutoring

With adult-adult mentor programs:

  • One adult trains a new or promoted employee "on the job"
  • An experienced employee who is retiring or taking on a new assignment might mentor another employee
  • One adult teaches another job skills for job placement
  • The organization benefits from the protégés' job skills

Even though goals vary from program to program, organized mentoring is anchored in the belief that we can "reinvent" ourselves. That is, anyone can enhance his or her situation, surroundings, and level of success by becoming actively involved in his or her own self-improvement.


Now that you've become more familiar with mentoring, the rest of the sections in this chapter will discuss the basics of setting up a program, including:

In Summary

We have seen the importance caring adults and young people can make in each other's lives. A mentoring program that is both well-planned and well-run can have a tremendous impact on the lives of many people.

Lorraine Claassen
Thurman Williams

Online Resources

The National Mentor Partnership's Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring publication details research-informed and practitioner-approved standards for creating and sustaining quality youth mentoring programs and consequently, impactful mentoring relationships.

How to Build a Successful Mentoring Program Using the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring is a planning toolkit with tools, templates and advice for implementing the  Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring publication.

Print Resources

Basualdo-Delmonico, A. M., & Spencer, R. (2016). A parent's place: Parents', mentors' and program staff members' expectations for and experiences of parental involvement in community-based youth mentoring relationships. Children And Youth Services Review, 616-14. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2015.11.021

Rhodes, J., Liang, B., & Spencer, R. (2009). First do no harm: Ethical principles for youth mentoring relationships. Professional Psychology: Research And Practice, 40(5), 452-458. doi:10.1037/a0015073

Freedman, M. (1993). The kindness of strangers: Adult mentors, urban youth, and the new volunteerism. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Lawrie, J. (1987). How to establish a mentoring program. Training and Development Journal, 41(3), 25-27.

Blocher, K. (1993). Factors in sustaining adult voluntary mentoring relationships with at-risk youth. University Microfilms International. (UMI Dissertation Services No. 9329930).