YSI Reports from the National Mentoring Summit

‘Twas a busy first week in Washington during The Imprint’s first real week of existence! After many months of design and development, the Little URL That Could went live on Tuesday, on the heels of President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.

The post-inauguration schedule was lousy with youth-related events, including The National Mentoring Summit, hosted by the National Mentoring Partnership.

The Alexandria, Va.-based umbrella organization was in a bad way at the turn of the decade. Its leader of 14 years, Gail Manza, departed in 2009. Current CEO David Shapiro is the fourth leader since Manza, and even before she left the organization had seen a drop-off from 32 affiliates in 25 states to 22 in 20 states.

At the very least, membership has stabilized. The partnership is back up to 24 affiliated partners in 24 states. And the summit was at capacity weeks before it opened.

Youth Services Insider was able to catch quite a bit of the summit. Below are some notes and thoughts on all the events:

The great mentoring surge of 2009 winds down.

A brief tour through the history of federal spending on youth mentoring shows that the strategy has always enjoyed some dedicated appropriations from the feds, and that is without factoring in the millions steered to mentoring in federal earmarks:

Juvenile Mentoring Program (JUMP), funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Mentoring Children of Prisoners, funded by the Department of Health Human Services since 2003, although the president has proposed to halve it’s $50 million appropriation in recent years.

General Mentoring: A broad account at OJJDP that has supported national, multi-state and local mentoring projects. This account exploded in 2008, not coincidentally around the time that Boys & Girls Clubs of America lost its direct line item in the Department of Justice budget. BGCA has garnered a healthy amount of the mentoring money each year since.

But the single biggest infusion of mentoring cash came in fiscal 2009, when Congress approved $129 million for mentoring programs. The appropriations were divided between standard appropriations for OJJDP and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The 2009 boom seeded some of the usual suspects, including BGCA ($44 million), the Milton Eisenhower S. Foundation ($9 million) and National Police Athletic Leagues ($3.7 million).

But a lot of the money went to organizations with little or no history in mentoring. Among them: Goodwill Industries International ($19.1 million), Home Builders Institute (HBI-$10 million), and Nazarene Compassionate Ministries ($3.3 million).

We are now four dysfunctional fiscal cycles past those grants. It will be interesting to see whether the investment in new mentoring partners yields more long-term forays into the work. Tadar Muhammad, presenting at the summit about Home Builders Institute’s career-focused mentoring project, said HBI would need future support from somewhere to stay in the mentoring game.

Three of HBI’s sub-grantees on the project, at the same session, expressed confidence that they could maintain some level of the career component even if HBI withdrew from the field. One of the three, Nadine Connell at the University of Texas-Dallas, which pairs students with area teens, said it was trying to convert the mentoring program into a university internship to protect it with some university funds.

Gaylynne Mack, who oversees a partnership with HBI at Big Buddy of Baton Rouge, La., reported that HBI support funded one staff member that she would have to find money for. But the actual career work, Mack has split into four: culinary, health care, construction and child card. Only the construction involves HBI.

Putting the “men” in “mentoring”

There were no fewer than four sessions at the summit about recruitment of male mentors. One of them was among the best conference workshops YSI has ever attended: Men in Mentoring, which oddly enough featured two women discussing a concerted effort in Michigan to bring more men into the mentoring fray.

If you’re ever looking for training on recruiting male volunteers, get in touch with Amber Troupe of Mentor Michigan and Winning Futures CEO Kristina Marshall. Fantastic Michigan accents on both of them, too. A few good pieces of advice from the presentation:

  • Create the illusion that you already have lots of males involved. Fill your PR photos with them, bring as many men as you can to any speaking opportunity you have.
  • If you can get a good sports connection – Winning Futures has one with the Michigan Hall of Fame, Marshall said – use that for your adults, not the kids. Marshall throws a big Hall of Fame recognition event each year, which her volunteers can only attend if they bring one male recruit.
  • “Did you have a mentor growing up?” is the best question to ask men at recruiting events, according to Marshall. It’s a swinging gate question, because either answer to it offers a line of persuasion in convincing the guy.

YSI is running down a few more resources that Troupe recommended in the event that sounded pretty good; we’ll post those later.

The longer YSI covers youth services, the less we comprehend what actually constitutes a mentoring program.

YSI sat in on a session titled “Youth Mentoring and Correctional Facilities,” which began with Lynna Lawson, a 4-H youth development specialist at the University of Missouri, describing a 4-H group for children and their incarcerated parents.

The idea is simple in nature, but probably deceptively tricky to execute. The 4-H conducts parenting and planning sessions with the inmates, and then hosts a Saturday get-together with them and their kids in a free space inside the prison. The whole thing started because of a staff member Lawson hired, who had a husband on death row.

Good idea? Of course. It’s hard to imagine the beef anyone would have with keeping families connected during a period of incarceration.

Is it a mentoring program? Lawson listed the following people are included as mentors in this scenario: the inmates, the corrections officers, and 4-H volunteers that help facilitate the visits.

Say what now? The inmate is the child’s parent. The corrections officer might be an even bigger stretch than counting that.

Mentoring funds have remained stable during a time when funding for youth services in general is tougher to come by. In that context, it is reasonable to expect greater interest and competition among youth-serving organizations for the cash.

In this case, the ballooning interest in mentoring might be broadening the identity and brand of that field beyond the realm of definable strategy. When OJJDP first spent on mentoring, the definition it used was “one-to-one mentoring programs for youth at risk of educational failure, dropping out of school, or involvement in delinquent activities, including gangs and drug abuse.”

At last week’s conference, mentoring researcher Jean Rhodes suggested this about mentoring relationships: “whenever you have an unrelated adult and youth, there is always potential to be more intentional about it.”

If that’s the framework, than pretty much any program that involves adult workers interacting with youth can be seen as “mentoring.” So has mentoring just become a synonym for youth work?

Pop Culture Recommendation for the Day

The Spectacular Thefts of Apollo Robbins. A really fascinating look by The New Yorker at the demons and angels in the head of America’s greatest pickpocket. It’s an excellent account of one man’s mental battle over virtue and vice.

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