“The work that we do is all about building the infrastructure and the quality of the mentoring field as a whole.”
That is Abigail Ellis, executive director of MENTOR Independence Region (MIR), explaining MIR’s overarching goal in creating great mentoring opportunities for all.
The organization doesn’t provide direct mentoring services, instead, it works with mentoring programs to improve mentoring practices at schools, nonprofits, and workplaces. The initiative is affiliated with Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region, and the MENTOR national mentoring partnership.
“Models of mentoring are much more varied compared to ten years ago,” Ellis said. For example, she said, group mentoring is being shown to be very effective, especially for older youth.
As part of the organization’s efforts to keep mentorship standards up to date, MIR has cultivated an evidence-based guide titled the Elements of Effective Practice (EEP). The guide represents the latest research of high quality mentoring, and is the cornerstone of MIR’s work integrating mentoring into a more structured setting. The book was put together from peer review journal articles and focus groups of approximately 200 people. Work done on the ground helped MIR supplement the research.
According to Ellis, informal mentoring — via neighbors, teachers, and coaches — constitutes 75% of mentoring with only 25% of mentoring falling into the “structured mentoring category.” And while both kinds of mentoring are important, Ellis said that “kids who are facing adversity often do not have access to the networks that kids who are more privileged have, and so structured mentoring programs can help to create equity for those kids.”
EEP practices underpin the tool that will be presented during the “Mochas & Mentoring: Conversations on Masculinity” event the organization is hosting at its offices on September 18. That tool is a guide called “Conversations about Masculinity: How Mentors can Support Young Men of Color,” and guests at the upcoming event will discuss the ways it can help open up ideas about masculinity.
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The guide is the result of work done with JP Morgan Chase’s Fellowship Initiative and provides “practical tips to support the development of relationships that encourage young men to explore expressions of masculinity to serve healthy decision making, self-development, and care for others.”
Inside the guide are questions and activities discussing how personal experience, community, and culture shape ideas of masculinity. It deconstructs gender identity, sexual identity, masculinity, hyper-masculinity, positive masculinity, and talks about the unique role mentors can play in helping young men of color reflect on these.
“Whether you’re new to this discussion, whether you’re deep into the mentoring field, or peripheral to the mentoring field, whether you’ve been engrossed int this work for ten years, I think there will be something for everybody,” Ellis said. She added that there is no preset expectation for the gathering — the organization wants to see where the conversation goes, and learn what other people are thinking.
“What we want is for adults to show up for young people,” Ellis said, adding that creating a safe space for youth and “showing up” is the start of great impact in mentorship. That belief is reflected MIR’s social media hashtag #MentorIRL, meaning “Mentor in Real Life.”
Mochas & Mentoring events are planned to take place every six weeks. The organization is open to hearing suggestions about topics for upcoming conversation. The next event, scheduled for October 30, will focus on recruiting mentors. People interested in mentoring can get a head start by using MIR’s database: the Mentoring Connector, where you can look up mentoring programs based on zip code, see what they are looking for, and apply to become a mentor.
“We know that mentoring is happening all over the places and spaces that youth operate in,” Ellis said. “So I would say come have a conversation with us. You’ll learn something, meet some new people, and then hopefully we’ll have an on-going conversation about it, and maybe make an impact for some young people.”-30-
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