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Mentoring rarely means working with “at-risk” or “troubled” youth

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Being a mentor has a stigma for kids and teens that just isn’t accurate

The majority of kids and teens actively matched or waiting for a match in the Boone County Mentoring Partnership can hardly be called “at-risk” or “troubled.” These are words that frequently come up when people are asked to mentor someone. 

“Troubled” is no more the case than first-year teachers receiving a peer mentor from a more experienced colleague, or interns at your work being matched with a supervisor who will help them learn professional skills. No one would hardly consider a first-year teacher “troubled.” 

“At-risk” and “troubled” serve as slightly kinder euphemisms for young people who have “broken homes” or are consistently tardy or absent from school. The kinds of words people use to describe young people in-and-out of juvenile detention or have constant run-ins with local police. At worst, they are terrible stand-ins for race or class. Words matter, and this kind of thinking does a disservice to young people who are most likely to benefit from mentorship.

Majority of Boone County youth in our program have parents asking for help

Our mentoring partnership is all-volunteer, and that includes the kids and teens involved. If they don’t want a mentor, we don’t force a match. Instead, we just keep them in mind for follow-up and possible consideration later when they might be ready. We only accept kids and teens who want to participate. This dramatically improves match partnerships and ensures adult mentors can spend more quality time with kids, not worrying over discipline.

Most kids and teens who are in our mentoring program are there because their parents or caregivers actively welcome someone in their lives.

There are many life situations under no one’s control that might result in a mentoring match:

  • A child who loses a father to cancer or sudden death now lacks male relationships.
  • Grandparents who have custody of a child and have raised them since infancy may wish for a child to be active in ways their health does not support.
  • A mother and father with extraordinarily hectic work schedules may have to travel a lot and may want a little more routine for their child.
  • Teens with burgeoning interests far outside the scope of their parent’s skills can benefit from a mentor with similar interests.
  • Kids who have special needs, disabilities, or backgrounds can benefit from adult mentors who have a similar lived experience.
  • And countless more life circumstances.

There are youth in the Mentoring Program today with a strong interest in cars, music, woodworking, hiking, and technology whose parents love and care for them but don’t know much about those topics. So they come to us for a match, which is a tremendous and sincere way of supporting them. These are not “at-risk” or “troubled” youth.

And yes, there are young people who are referred to us by law enforcement or the Boone County Prosecutor’s Office. These young people do warrant some special attention, but we disclose this to possible adult matches, and our rules about everyone’s engagement — including their caregivers — still apply. If one party doesn’t want to match for whatever reason, we don’t force them to. Everyone undergoes background checks, too, regardless of how they come to the BCMP.

Almost no child or teen enrolled in the BCMP came entirely on their own. They are usually referred to us by a teacher, counselor, coach, or other trusted adult. Their parents or caregivers are always involved, not just for consent, but to help do what’s best for their child. Most parents are exceptionally grateful for help to do what’s best for their child and continue to do the important work of parenting, which is not a mentor’s job.

You can help kids and teens in Boone County by becoming a mentor. There’s currently a waitlist of young people waiting for someone like you. All we ask is you’re able to commit about an hour a week, on average, to spend with a young person. Most every match goes far beyond this minimal requirement.

Mentorship changes lives

Dozens of kids in Boone County are waiting

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