Throughout our blogs and Facebook posts we mention our youth mentors; we are usually thanking them for being great and helping us and the community. It occurred to me that there has never been a blog or post that has discussed Youth Odyssey’s mentor program in great depth; how does a youth become a mentor, what that title means, the process. Until now.
Youth Odyssey created the youth mentor program in April 2008. At the time, there was a group of 7th and 8th graders that had progressed so far in the program that Youth Odyssey wanted to keep them involved and active. A Youth Board was created to discuss what steps could be taken to challenge them further; and they decided that a service project would be a fun way to get more involved. While we were researching a service project with the City of Corpus Christi, Texas Parks and Wildlife added a “service project section” in their Community Outdoor – Outreach Program (CO-OP) grant application. This would give Youth Odyssey funding for an outdoor service project. The timing worked out perfectly and the Youth Board had their opportunity to give back! They chose to help beautify Blucher Park, a migratory birding park.
Here we are eight years later and Youth Odyssey’s youth mentors are still serving at Blucher Park every other month! Services that they provide to the park and it’s wildlife residents are: picking up trash, creating and maintaining trails, invasive species removal, planting of native species, painting the footbridge, and so much more. Having the youth volunteer their time and energy to the park is extremely rewarding for Youth Odyssey and the mentors love it too, which is even better. Our City and National Audubon Society partners always have something planned for us and we are always eager to help.
The Blucher Park clean up is just one aspect of Youth Odyssey’s mentor program. Before a youth even gets to that point there are a few pre-requisites that need to be met. In a very loose sense, any one of our Youth Odyssey participants can become a mentor but it isn’t a title we just throw around and offer to everyone in our programs (that would be a bit chaotic). In order for someone to become a mentor they are first awarded the title of Mentor-in-Training. This title is given once a youth has:
- Participated in Youth Odyssey’s general programming for at least two years
- Has had consistent attendance and behavior
- Has demonstrated growth with our program, and
- Has evolved into taking on more of a leadership role during the programs
When we see these in a participant we start dropping the “m” word, “have you ever thought about becoming a mentor? do you know about our mentor program?” Usually, once you mention it, those who are interested jump right on it and get excited about the prospect of becoming a mentor and getting to do even more with Youth Odyssey.
At this point we do a sit down and discuss what the role of a mentor entails:
“As a mentor and mentor in training you are to be a role model for the youth and an extension of the facilitators. From your experience with us you know how our programming works and you understand what is and is not acceptable Youth Odyssey behavior. So as a mentor, if you see or hear anything that you know to be going against what Youth Odyssey is about, then speak up and either say something to those involved and then let a facilitator know what happened or come to a facilitator and discuss the options of what to do in that situation.”
The list goes on but that’s a general example on how it works. Once the potential new mentor understands what their role would be in Youth Odyssey, we ask if that is a role they are willing to take on at this time. Most say yes; but some are nervous about the new level of responsibility and want to hold off to see if they are really ready (challenge by choice). To those who want to wait we continue to encourage them to become a mentor as their program-time with us continues. We ask again towards the end of their program to see if they feel they want to tackle the mentorship, now that they have had time to think about it more. To those who say yes, we keep them posted on when we are having mentor events, trainings and trips.
There are so many amazing opportunities and advantages to our mentor program that I had to cut this blog in half, so I didn’t overwhelm our readers. This was a very introductory post about how to become a mentor and how they can grow in Youth Odyssey through their experiences in the mentor program. I will go more in depth into what being a mentor entails in next weeks blog so please stay tuned and check it out because the work our mentors do in amazing and ever so appreciated!