mentor is a caring, adult friend who devotes time to a young person. Although mentors can fill any number of different roles, all mentors have the same goal in common: to help young people achieve their potential and discover their strengths.

A mentor’s main purpose is to help a young person define individual goals and find ways to achieve them. Since the expectations of each child will vary, the mentor’s job is to encourage the development of a flexible relationship that responds to both the mentor’s and the young person’s needs.

By sharing fun activities and exposing a youth to new experiences, a mentor encourages positive choices, promotes high self-esteem, supports academic achievement, and introduces the young person to new ideas.

If you think you’d make a good mentor, great. We have lots of information about the many opportunities that are available. But you should be aware that it may take a while to be matched with a youth. Mentoring programs are concerned with the well being and safety of both youth and the volunteer mentors.


  • A Friend
  • A Reliable Listener
  • A Homework Helper
  • A Trustworthy Confidant
  • Part of a broader support network


  • A New Parent
  • A Therapist
  • A Cool Peer
  • A Parole Officer
  • An ATM Machine
  • A Savior

Regardless of your background or age, the greatest gift you have to offer a young person is your genuine interest in their life and your willingness to listen attentively to them. Because you bring a wide range of life experiences to your mentoring relationship you can be a wonderful source of advice and information.

As a mentor you offer a young person the consistent opportunity to talk with you and share their wants, needs and expectations. And you, in turn, can help them find ways to fulfill those wants and needs.

You may be worried that you won’t know how to help a child or that you may make a mistake, but it can be easier than you think to make a difference in a young person’s life. Things that may seem straightforward to you and I are often mysterious to young people.
You are in the unique position to offer a young person what they ask for. When asked, most young people say they want a mentor to help in three key areas: advice, access and advocacy.

From time to time, your mentee may need a second opinion or a different perspective — you can provide that. When offering advice, however, it is important to remember that while the roles of a mentor and parents or guardians may occasionally overlap, these are two distinct roles. You are there to provide the child with another caring adult who helps them think through problems. Your job is not to supersede parents or guardians.

One of the most valuable things you can do is to help connect your mentee with people, opportunities and information that are otherwise out of reach. That’s what access is all about — helping your mentee find and get involved in new situations, learn about new things, or find needed resources.

You can be an advocate for your mentee — in other words, work on their behalf to get them the recognition they deserve or the resources they need to resolve issues or problems. You will have to create opportunities to get to know your mentee as a person. The more you learn about your mentee, the stronger an advocate you can be. For instance, maybe you discover that your mentee has a real talent for art. You could advocate having your mentee accepted into a special art program at school or help them enter their artwork in a contest.

Each mentoring relationship will develop its own personality based on the needs of the individual youth 10-18. Despite the variations that will exist from mentee to mentee, it will be obvious to your young friend that they are being offered a friendship with a caring adult. They will see you have a sincere interest to be involved with them. They will receive your respect and empathy, share in your ability to see solutions and opportunities and learn to recognize that healthy relationships are flexible and open and come with a long enough commitment to make a difference.

As you continue a mentoring assignment, you will come to find that the advantages you and your mentee offered each other are truly too numerous to count.

Few bonds in life are more influential than those between a young person and an adult. As you begin your journey toward becoming a mentor, you will need to thoroughly understand the basics of mentoring before entering into a relationship with a young person.

Look at a role you are probably already familiar with. Most of us have had a supervisor, boss or coach. Those people wore many hats. They acted as, delegators, role models, cheerleaders, policy enforcers, advocates and friends. As a mentor you will wear these same hats.

Mentors understand the need to assume a number of different roles during the course of a mentoring relationship, but successful mentors also share the same basic qualities:

  • A sincere desire to be involved with a young person.
  • Respect young people.
  • Listen actively.
  • Empathize.
  • See solutions and opportunities.
  • Be flexible and open.

As you and your mentee begin your communication; exploring values, interests and goals, you will find yourself making a difference and having a positive effect on a young person’s life. What you may also be surprised to see is that you will be learning more about yourself, too. Mentoring is a shared opportunity for learning and growth. Mentoring doesn’t just affect the young person.

  • Mentoring provides significant benefits. As a mentor, you will be
  • Making a difference in someone else’s life.
  • Learning about you.
  • Giving back and contributing to the future.
  • Having fun.

If you’re still not sure you understand what is expected of a mentor then just ask a young person. Good mentors are willing to take time to get to know their mentees, to learn new things that are important to the young person, and even to be changed by their relationship.

Accept the challenges and rewards of mentoring a child for a period of one school year (nine months) or longer and experience the benefits that will last each of you a lifetime.

When looking for a mentoring program that fits your interests and availability, it’s important to find out as much as you can about the program before making a commitment. Here’s a list of questions you might want to explore with a prospective mentoring program:

  1. 1.What are your screening procedures for mentors? For mentees?
  2. 2.What ongoing supervision and support do mentors receive from your program?
  3. 3.Is there a designated person at the program that can help me when I have concerns about mentoring or my mentee? How available is that person?
  4. Does your program have specific policies and procedures for handling situations of suspected child abuse?
  5. What are the program’s policies for interacting with the mentee’s parents, teachers or counselors?
  6. What are your program policies about bringing the mentee to my home? Allowing the mentee to ride in my car? Taking the mentee out of town? Involving my family or friends with the mentee? Gifts to the mentee?
  7. Will it cost me anything to be a mentor in your program?
  8. What are the specific requirements of a mentor in your program, such as: the length of commitment, number of hours per week/month and types of activities expected?
  9. What role do I play in selecting my mentee?

Source: Virginia Mentoring Partnership

It’s not possible to anticipate every situation and the appropriate behavior to apply when one is mentoring. However, here are a few suggestions to use as general guidelines:

  • Get to know your mentee. Try to really understand how things are for him or her now.
  • Be positive, patient, dependable, honest and sincere.
  • Be consistent, but flexible. Expect changes in plans.
  • Encourage, praise and compliment – even the smallest of accomplishments.
  • Be an active listener. Use language that’s easy to understand.
  • Give concrete explanations.
  • Be straight, honest and sincere (people pick up on falseness and shallowness).
  • Ask for opinions and participation in decision-making.
  • Work with your mentee. Share your knowledge rather than giving advice.
  • Be enthusiastic – it’s contagious.
  • Stress the positive.
  • Be firm. Have your mentee assume responsibilities and hold him or her accountable.
  • Help your mentee use mistakes as learning experiences.
  • Be fair – they’ll notice if you’re not.
  • Help identify your mentee’s talents, strengths and assets.
  • Tell your mentee about yourself, especially what you remember from your high school years.
  • Help them identify the significance for their own lives of the information you are discussing (e.g., possible future profession, similar experiences, etc.) – tell them how they can use the information.
  • Have activities planned in advance.
  • Take the initiative. A mentee who fails to call or attend must be pursued and the coordinator notified of the situation so that issues can be resolved and sessions can begin again, if applicable.
  • If you’re going to miss a mentoring session, call the coordinator and leave a message for the mentee. It is important to let the mentee know you did not forget about your mentoring session.
  • Learn to appreciate your mentee’s cultural and ethnic background. Strive toward cultural reciprocity.
  • Be open to what your mentee can teach you or share with you.
  • Honor Your Commitment – This is extremely important! You’ll hear this over and over again!

Adapted from materials provided by The Mentoring Partnership of New York, Mentoring In the Faith Community: An Operations Manual for Program Coordinators and from Virginia Mentoring Partnership.


  • Expect to have instant rapport with your mentee.
  • Be lenient in order to be liked – it won’t earn their respect, and they need consistency and structure.
  • Lecture, moralize or preach.
  • Tell them what to do (instead, you should suggest, invite, encourage).
  • Share personal problems unless it is to explain your current disposition (e.g., tired or irritable).
  • Make promises you can’t keep.
  • Be convinced that what mentees say is always what they mean.
  • Pry into the young person’s life. If a mentee pries into your affairs, it is okay to say that some things in your life are private just as they are in his or her life.
  • Be afraid to admit that you do not know an answer or that you have made a mistake. Find the correct answer and learn together. It helps the mentee to see that you are learning too.
  • Interpret lack of enthusiasm as a personal rejection or reaction to you.
  • Be sarcastic or use excessive teasing.
  • Refer to youths that reside in public housing as being from “the projects.”
  • Lend money.
  • Violate confidences, with the single exception of crisis intervention situations, in which case you must contact the coordinator privately and immediately.
  • Forget your own adolescence. What do you wish an adult had said to you or done for you at that time in your life?
  • Attempt to become a surrogate parent to a child.
  • Peace First Fellowship: The Peace First Prize recognizes young people between the ages of 8-22 for their compassion, courage and ability to create collaborative change. A two-year $50,000 Peace First Fellowship will be invested in their leadership as peacemakers and share their stories with the nation. Please click here for more information about this opportunity.

In joining a formal mentoring program, you will probably be asked to go through an application process. As part of that process, you will need to supply personal and professional references, perhaps have a background check performed, and complete a personal interview. Also, remember that the role of a mentor comes with substantial responsibilities so you will be required to take part in an orientation and training. Throughout the duration of your mentoring relationship, be sure to seek support from the program coordinator.

Different Ways to Mentor

Mentoring experiences come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Sometimes youth are mentored informally through a natural connection between themselves and a caring adult, like a relative, a next door neighbor, a teacher or coach, or someone through their place of worship. There are also formal mentoring opportunities where there is a connection between a caring adult and a young person through an organized, mentoring-focused program.



One to One Mentoring

One adult to one young person.


Big Couple Mentoring

Adult couple mentors one young person.


Group Mentoring

One adult to up to four young people.


Team Mentoring

Several adults working with small groups of young people in which the adult-to-youth ratio is no greater than 1:4.


Peer Mentoring

A caring youth mentoring another youth.


Different Places to Mentor

Site Based

School & Site Based Mentoring

Mentoring that occurs in a school setting or at a site predetermined by the organization.

Community Based

Community Based Mentoring

Mentoring where mentors and mentees meet at any location of their selecting within the community.