Mentoring Youth


with Elizabeth Santiago, Chief Program Officer of Mentor The National Mentoring Partnership


Apr 13, 2018

Young people reap many benefits from mentoring, including higher graduation rates, improved self-esteem and improved interpersonal skills. A discussion with Elizabeth Santiago, Chief Program Officer of Mentor The National Mentoring Partnership, about how traditional and more informal types of mentoring can help youth thrive.

Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Traynham: Research from Mentor: the National Mentoring Partnership, shows that one out of three young people do not have a mentor outside of their family, which, for certain young people, could impact their potential to fully achieve positive life outcomes. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Robert Traynham. With me to discuss how mentoring benefits young people is Elizabeth Santiago, chief program officer of Mentor: the National Mentoring Partnership. Elizabeth, welcome to the program.

Santiago: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

Traynham: No problem. So, it is good to know that family members are, obviously, mentors. That´s, I would make the argument, the most important thing that family members can do. But for some people, they need more than just family.

Santiago: That´s right.

Traynham: For some people, they do not have a family. So how do you connect then, how do you bridge that gap for those out there who need something beyond their family members in terms of mentorship?

Santiago: Sure, yeah. That´s a great question. So, when we talk about mentorship, there are a number of different ways people can be a mentor or get involved. And so there are sort of what we call the traditional ways that people can be mentors, and you can go through a program that will help you get matched with a young person. And those programs are programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters, or Boys and Girls Clubs of America. But then we also -- because we recognize that the community is so important in the development of a young person, that there are community members. There are folks who are part of a church community or part of a sports community, and those folks are also mentors. And at Mentor, we have been looking at mentoring a little bit more broadly over the last few years because of the gap that you mentioned so eloquently. One out of three young people grow up without a mentor. And so we´re trying to fill that gap with as many possibilities as possible, so --

Traynham: Please. You know, I think it´s very important. This is something that I´ve learned over my life is that -- to your point, a mentor doesn´t have to be -- I can be a cousin, you know, it can be an uncle or an aunt or whatever the case may be. It could be a neighbor, it could be the swim club meet person, it could be the crossing guard that you see every day -- someone that´s older than you or more wiser than you that can help guide you. And sometimes, I have found that sometimes, they´re a little bit more effective than sometimes our family members.

Santiago: That´s right. That´s right, and we also -- I mean, we have the older sort of wiser person, and then we also have peer mentoring.

Traynham: That´s right, that´s right.

Santiago: So we have young people who are mentoring each other because maybe they´ve gone through something that another young person is navigating, and that´s really exciting to us to honor that relationship as well.

Traynham: So, Elizabeth, to that point, what is Mentor, meaning your organization, and what are you doing specifically to help youth?

Santiago: Sure, yeah. So, Mentor is now probably about a 27-year-old organization, and we were founded to galvanize the mentoring community and to have one unifying force for that community. And over the course of 25 years, we have built out a network of affiliates who work locally on the ground. And I´m from the national office, so I work nationally. And our focus has been on research and figuring out the best practices for what works with mentoring, what works with positive youth development, because we know that those things are really important to help all young people thrive. And so as we built out that research and started really getting down into the local level, we also started looking at sort of non-traditional ways of working with young people. So we have training for coaches, we have training for supervisors who are maybe doing internships with young people. And so we´re trying to fill that gap that one in three young people face so that they have mentors in all walks of life.

Traynham: Elizabeth, based on your research over the past 25 years, is there a direction, is there a theme, is there an undercurrent there where mentorship is going over the next 25 years?

Santiago: Yeah, it´s interesting. You know, there´s a lot of different things. Like, we´re seeing a big swell of interest in mentoring in the field of education, in building up that system so that more and more young people have mentors who are sort of academically focused and maybe working with teachers to be more mentor-like. But one of the big themes that I´ve seen since I´ve been at Mentor is this focus on what we´re calling critical mentoring, where we´re really interrogating a young person´s context so that we can help them navigate some systems that are not actually in their favor, let´s put it that way. And so critical mentoring really does allow the mentor to have some insight in working with youth who they may not understand the challenges that youth face. So that´s really important as a program team at Mentor, but also for mentoring at large.

Traynham: Oh, that´s good to hear. We´ve got about 45 seconds left. For those who are watching this program at home or perhaps on their smart device, and they are now thinking about maybe they could become a mentor, where can they go to get more information? Where can they go to, quite frankly, just sniff around, if you will, to see if, in fact, this is something they might be interested in?

Santiago: Absolutely. So I would suggest going to -- -- and searching our Mentoring Connector. It´s the only database of mentoring programs, and any mentor can search by zip code to find a mentoring opportunity for themselves.

Traynham: Elizabeth Santiago with Mentor: The National Mentoring Partnership, thank you very much for joining us.

Santiago: Thank you very much.

Traynham: Really appreciate it. And, of course, thank you for joining us as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit I´m Robert Traynham. Have a great day.

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