Media Highlights

How Does Mentoring Affect the Lives of Young People?

by Opportunity Nation   •  

We know mentoring is a critical strategy for improving the lives of young people, boosting their academic achievement, social development, and chances for long-term success. We also know many more young people could benefit from a mentoring relationship across our country. In an effort to close this gap and put more young people on a pathway to success, we are joining with the many leading organizations in our coalition who utilize mentoring as a critical strategy for improving communities.  Learn more about the role that mentoring plays in Opportunity Nation’s Shared Plan.

Here are just a few places to get started in finding opportunities to mentor in your community: Year UpUnited Way WorldwideMENTORiMentor. You can read more below about this powerful youth development strategy as we all work together to rebuild ladders of opportunity across our country. 

Why Mentoring?

Mentoring is a powerful tool that can positively affect the lives of high-risk children. Research demonstrates that mentoring has the power to improve their lives and productivity.[1] Children who participate in mentoring relationships demonstrate better school attendance, higher likelihood of going on to higher education, and a better attitude toward school than non-mentored youth.[2] Moreover, studies of mentoring programs show that mentoring relationships reduce negative youth behaviors and show promise in preventing substance abuse.[3] Mentoring also offers the capacity to build proactive tendencies. It incorporates elements of positive youth development philosophy, helping to build assets and fostering resiliency. Participation in mentoring strengthens positive social attitudes and peer relationships,[4] and children in mentoring relationships have more trusting relationships and better communication with their parents.[5] This is the single most important benefit of children deprived of a relationship with a parent can develop healthy and stable relationships with their peers, caregivers, and other adults. This increases opportunities for positive use of time, positive self-expression, civic engagement, and educational achievement, allowing them to reach their potential.
Our coalition partner MENTOR shares about the value of mentoring.

Mentoring programs might be one of the most valuable, simple initiatives for communities to readily support themselves. By simply facilitating connections, students can find outlets for personal growth and school work support, parents can find an ally or two to assist in their child’s development, teachers can have their work reinforced, and mentors can grow from engaging with their mentee(s). It’s a win-win system that is easy to facilitate, takes little time on all ends, and from which all benefit.

In high school, I was the “tutor chair,” which meant I connected any student, parent, or teacher request for a mentor or tutor to an appropriate match within the 40% of juniors or seniors that offered to participate. This role was so simple- taking about 5 hours out of my week- and so fulfilling, probably one of the highlights of high school that not even my friends would have suspected.

As a mentor to many, I’ve found it to be a really fun, challenging, and peaceful way to give back, reflect, and refine my expertise. I started mentoring in math to support my school district’s younger students and eventually I started mentoring on a more personal level, providing career insight, and now I advise mostly on peer business endeavors.

Having older role models take time to share and look out for younger students, be it specific to math or even personal topics, matters. Whether the recipient realizes it in the moment or not, they often value and weigh that outside input or opinion right along side that of their family and friends. And the funny part is the relationship does not always need to be formally initiated, most of my mentors freshman year were juniors I spoke with on a casual basis, but their unsolicited advice and input was really important now that I think back. So I might say the key to great mentoring is having people that are willing to share and without being asked be observant and care for those around them- whether they’re paired up or its casual conversation.

As a mentor, the most intriguing part might be coming to better understand my fellow citizens- how they think, what motivates them, how they tackle problems, what makes them laugh, or how they interpret the world around them. But the cherry on the pie is always talking with parents who are overly grateful or seeing a mentee really being to think about something differently.
Opportunity Scholar and current NYU student Samantha Smith shares her experiences with mentoring.

Without support early on, a child experiencing homelessness is 4 times more likely to have developmental delays than a housed child, 8 times more likely to repeat a grade, and 3 times more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems. Imagine having those odds stacked against you before your 1st or 2nd birthday. The children I had the chance to work with as a volunteer at Horizons for Homeless Children’s Playspace Program faced those odds head on.  A homeless shelter is not a great place to spend your childhood but every Tuesday for a few hours in the evening, the children we worked with had the chance to escape from that. We’d walk into the playroom filled with bright colors, dress up clothes, art supplies and books.

Being the idealistic recent college grad that I was I hoped that I’d be able to provide the children with some stability and comfort and the basics I had growing up like an adult sitting and reading a book to me and listening to me tell a story about my day. I didn’t realize what an impact the children would have on me. I fed a baby her first bottle and I came in one week to find out that the little boy who was struggling with crawling when I started volunteering there was walking. I left my volunteer shift with paintings and drawings we made together. I held toddlers that collapsed into tears over sharing toys and skinned knees. I was a part of little milestones and victories every week.

A year later, I’ve had the opportunity to join the staff at Horizons for Homeless Children. Putting my degree and policy background to the test, I work with legislators and advocate for coordinated policy solutions that will help children experiencing homelessness break the cycle. I believe in the potential of effective policy but even more so I believe in the children living in shelter that I’m lucky enough to know. I’m an older sister through and through and I feel responsible for these children just like I do for my younger brothers and cousins. And every Tuesday, armed with hugs and finger paint, they remind me who I’m accountable to and why I’m doing this work.
Opportunity Leader and Policy and Grassroots Advocacy Associate Sarah Groh shares her experiences with mentoring.

Mentors Must Focus on Assets to Effectively Reach Opportunity Youth

Opportunity Nation partner Eagle Rock School & Professional Development Center is Corporate Social Responsibility initiative of the American Honda Education Corporation, a nonprofit subsidiary of the American Honda Motor Company.  Eagle Rock is both a school for high school age students and a professional development center for adults, particularly educators. The school is a year-round, residential, and full-scholarship school that enrolls young people ages 15-17 from around the United States in an innovative learning program with national recognition.  The Professional Development Center works with educators from around the country who wish to study how to re-engage, retain and graduate students. The center provides consulting services at school sites and host educators who study and learn from Eagle Rock practices. 

Eagle Rock is unique for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is a residential program. All of our students did not experience success in previous schools and many had dropped out prior to enrolling with us. When they come to Eagle Rock, they find themselves in a school that invests a significant amount of time in deliberately nurturing ourselves as a learning community. We have spent a great deal of time planning and reflecting on our school practices and on our effects on culture. We use asset based community development that recognize what students have to offer rather than focusing on their deficits (drop-out, gang affiliated, addicted, etc.). Opportunities to hear students’ voices are intentionally built into the governing and mentoring structures of the school.

Through mentoring we are building students’ capacity to exercise leadership for justice, so when they sit in on staff meeting and they help hire new staff, their student voice is very important. When students have the ability to really own their experience and take responsibility for their actions inside and out side of the classroom, that can make all the difference. Focusing on the assets of students at Eagle Rock allows for leveling of the playing field for our most vulnerable and disenfranchised students. Rather than focusing on what they don’t know or aren’t good at, we are able to start with what they bring to the table. And to believe that each and every student has something to offer, regardless of circumstance or ability, can reengage disengaged youth.
Opportunity Leader and Associate Director of Professional Development Eagle Rock School & Professional Development Center Dan Condon shares the importance of mentoring Opportunity Youth.


Linda Nelson (Opportunity Leader)- A long-time education leader in rural Arkansas, focused the efforts of her ACTION Community on the 16-24 year olds who are not working and not in school – the indicators most strongly correlated with opportunity scores overall. She planned a successful summer series for young adults with barriers to college called “Don’t Be Good, Be Great! Youth Challenge Workshops” and recruited new mentors to support this work. One of their testimonials is below.

Mentoring a teen is a first for me, but I was excited to be an At-Risk Youth Mentor Recruit by Ms. Nelson, who asked me to befriend a young lady who attended a Don’t Be Good, Be Great Workshop this summer. This young lady is a 16-year old sophomore at Camden Fairview High School. She is the shy, quiet type, who is confused as to what she might want to do after high school, but hopes that she will be able to attend college. Like Ms. Nelson, I think it is important for young people to at least know how high school courses and the high school experience can determine how successful someone will be after high school. My role is to encourage and motivate this young lady to enjoy high school and to start now thinking that college can be a definite possibility. I am currently a junior in college pursuing a degree in education, so I hope by sharing my experiences with her, I will be able to make a difference.
-S. Rhonda Rochelle

Kristine Velasquez (Opportunity Scholar)- I will never forget the first instance that I felt I was making a sincere difference in a life while mentoring. I was presenting on “paying for college” when I brought up a very valuable resource that The University of Texas offers which is called the ‘UTEP Promise Plan’. This basically states that any resident that is an incoming freshman and comes from a household income of $30,000 or less does not have to pay any tuition. Upon finishing my sentence I saw from the audience a young student and his father turn their heads immediately to see each other and gave each other the brightest smiles I had ever seen. I knew by seeing the reactions of these two individuals that what I do as a mentor really does bring awareness of wonderful opportunities that many may unfamiliar with. I knew this father and his son had probably been pondering about how they would end up paying for college with a low income and I could feel the relief that they felt upon hearing my words. I left with a sense of accomplishment that day and because of that day, I always try to be the most effective mentor that I can be because I never know what difference I might actually be making to the person I am speaking to.

Wick Sloane (Opportunity Leader)- I’m a teacher at heart, and mentoring people is a chance to do what I enjoy. Besides, I always have better advice for others than I give to myself. Mentoring is a chance to promote critical thinking. I always warn people who come to me, “Remember, if you ask an opinionated person for an opinion, what will you get? An opinion. Ask other people for advice, too.” I try to help people who come to me by thinking of similar situations in my own life. The people aren’t interested in stories for the sake of stories. We are trying to solve a problem together. Most of the best advice I’ve given as a mentor is from my mistakes, not my successes. In solving the problems ahead, you can never go wrong advising someone to (re)read The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer. These books have the answers to all of life’s questions I’ve encountered. And “Mentor” is the name of a wise character in these books.

Khasha Attaran (Opportunity Scholar)- I have been mentoring for almost two years now. I grew up without my mother around, and pretty much without my father as well. This lead me down a dark road early in life, as I got involved with local street gangs near my neighborhood. Personally, I had to learn through trial and error throughout my adolescence about what choices will be positive for my future and, vice versa. This is why I became a youth mentor for a program called Partners for Committed Youth as part of the Boy’s and Girl’s Club of Eugene, Oregon. After having to figuring out ‘the next right step’ myself, I wanted to spread my insights to a youth, in order to help him deter the lifestyle choices that I had made in my past.

Chace Baptista (Opportunity Leader)- Scott Fraser was a 6 feet 2 inches tall man from Central Pennsylvania, who paid his way through college working at a local steel mill.  He now was middle aged and in a senior leadership position at the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island by the time I met him at the age of 16.  I was 5”11 with an afro that made me 6”2 and all of the swagger of a inner city teen in his prime.   Scott did not spend thousands of hours with me to make an impact.  Scott was probably the first person that looked the way he did, dressed the way he did, that I trusted.  He always listened to my point of view and made me feel like I mattered.  Even though he made a tremendous impact with me it wasn’t time intensive.   In fact over the course of our entire relationship spanning ten years we’ve spent less than a hundred hours together.  Even now his advice and words of encouragement still reverberate throughout my entire life. Scott is an example of what a true mentor is.  Whether it was coffee, resume help, or conversations about life Scott was always compassionate, kind, and thoughtful in his responses to me.  To be honest, I always get teary eyed when I think about someone who did not give much more than his time, yet has transformed my life for the better.  Based off of the experience with Scott, I too have tried to give back to young people in a variety of ways.  Through starting my own non-profit, volunteering at local non-profit organizations, and just being some one they can talk too.  Now more than ever we need more Scott Frasers.  Because, if it wasn’t for the lessons that Scott taught me, I know that I would not be the man that I am today.

Shayla Price (Opportunity Leader)- Mentoring programs are strategic investments in the longevity of our nation. Great mentors are invaluable for young adults because mentors can provide support inside and outside the classroom. Mentees have the opportunity to learn the untold principles of success and to receive introductions to new networks. When I mentored a young lady, I helped her apply for colleges. Mentoring challenged me to perform at my very best to uplift someone else’s life. In return, my communication and teaching skills improved. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to mentor others.

Opportunity Leaders and Scholars share about her experiences with mentoring.

Change Won’t Happen Without You. Become a Volunteer Reader, Tutor or Mentor

Fewer Americans are likely to earn a high school diploma than their parents, a distinction not shared by any other industrialized country. We know that when students drop out of school, communities suffer. About one quarter of all students – one million students a year, 3,000 a day – fail to graduate on time. It’s no wonder people think our trust in the power of the American Dream is wavering. 

However, as United Way has learned by listening to people in communities across the country over the past several years, the American Dream is alive and well. The educational challenges facing students and youth of America may seem overwhelming at times, but United Ways consistently heard: “people are willing to do whatever it takes to set students up for success.”

This is why United Way is committed to recruiting one million volunteer readers, tutors and mentors to help close the graduation gap. Volunteer readers, tutors and mentors have the power to help students who are at risk of falling through the cracks without the positive presence of a caring adult to give them a boost.

This is also why United Way is joining Opportunity Nation’s Week of Action. We share Opportunity Nation’s belief that young people are a critical component of boosting our economy and creating more opportunity in our communities. As a reader, tutor or mentor you can make your mark, and help the next generation of Americans LIVE UNITED and be all that they can be. To learn more about United Way, visit us at and pledge to become a volunteer reader, tutor or mentor.

Call to Action from United Way Worldwide, a Steering Committee member of the Opportunity Nation campaign

[1] Making a Difference: An Impact Study of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Joseph Tierney and Jean B. Grossman, 1995.
Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures.
[2] Mentoring: A Promising Strategy for Youth Development, Child Trends Research Brief. By Susan Jekielek, MA,
Kristin Moore, PhD, Elizabeth Hair, PhD Harriet Scarupa, MS. February 2002.
[3,4,5] ibid

Opportunity Nation Opportunity Nation is a bipartisan, national campaign comprised of more than 350 cross-sector organizations working together to expand economic mobility and close the opportunity gap in America. Opportunity Nation envisions the United States as a nation where everyone – regardless of where they were born – has equal access to opportunity, economic mobility, and success at all stages of life.

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