Saturday, March 22, 2008

Mentoring USA

The New York State mentoring program was chaired by Matilda Raffa Cuomo, who has been described as being the most active First Lady in New York State's history. It was the first mentoring program in the United States to specifically address the needs of young people in foster care.

In 1995, when state funding was no longer available, Cuomo founded Mentoring USA.

Mentoring USA has national consultants, who work with mentoring programs all over the country to implement a one-on-one, site-based mentoring model. The demographics of each site can vary.

Mentoring USA chooses which sites throughout the country that they are going to work with, and how many new sites they can take on each year. They now offer more technical assistance, such as modules to train staff, mentors and mentees.

Agencies or organizations pay Mentoring USA to provide technical assistance and/or to tailor the program. They can pay for more or less, depending upon their needs. Sometimes, their budget is smaller, and they just want to invest in a screening/training tool.

1. First, Mentoring USA decides if the agency or organization has the capacity to house a mentoring program.

2. Then, they work with staff members to define what that mentoring program should look like, and what/if any special focus areas exist (e.g. financial literacy).

3. They outline the requirements and strategy to establish the program.

Mentors must be over 18, and undergo an initial interview and a background check. During mentor training, there are two trainers. One trainer leads the session, while the other observes would-be mentors to see if there's a need for additional interviews.

Mentees can be youth in foster care, ages 7-21 (or even up to 23 years old). As long as a young person is connected to the agency and willing to partipate, they can be part of the program.

The mentor and mentee must meet for 4 hours/month minimum, in accordance with research regarding mentoring effectiveness. This could mean meeting twice a month for two hours each, or four times a month for one hour. Certainly, they are both welcome to invest extra time.

There are various activities to build rapport. Group activities are good, because that way the mentee still gets something out of it, even if their mentor does show up or they don't get along with their mentor very well.

Group activities can include: yoga, goal-setting, career days, strategic planning, healthy lifestyle, self-defense or a guest speaker (e.g. Victoria Rowell). It's important that these activities be fun for everyone involved, and not feel like school.

Mentoring USA has developed a yearly calendar, but can customize their curriculum for the intended audience.

Matching Process
The process of matching mentors and mentees differs according to site, but what Keith Howard recommends is a combination of two methods:

1. List of questions for both mentors and mentees, based upon predetermined compatibility factors. Having an idea of participants' personalities can help (e.g. extrovert/introvert, interests, goals)

2. "Speed Matching;" a process similar to speed dating. Mentees sit in chairs in a circle, while mentors alternate chairs on the outside and ask pre-set questions. Meanwhile, the trainer pays attention to the interaction, guages the level of comfort and compatibility, and marks his/her observations on a scorecard.

It's important to note that Foster Care Initiatives Program Manager Keith Howard says that in his experience, matching is not the most important part. Rather, the most important part is facilitating that mentor-mentee relationship.

Match Breakdown
At the very first training, mentors and mentees are told what to expect in case of a mismatch of personalities:

- If a match breaks down, staff will try to support and maintain that relationship
- If they cannot salvage the match, they will end it and seek closure
- Because their model is 1:1 mentoring, either they will try to bring in two more people, or those two people might be out of the program

Outcome Measurement
Because Mentoring USA was founded by a former First Lady of New York, and supported by her Attorney General son, Andrew Cuomo, they are able to receive grants and funding without having to prove themselves by strenous outcome measurements.

Outcomes that they strive for are:
- Social skills (e.g. healthy levels of disclosure)
- Healthy life choices (qualitative measures)
- Conflict resolution (modules)

Grades are also a good indicator of success, although their mentoring model is social, not academic.

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