In recent years, research has shown mentoring to be a valuable intervention strategy for at-risk youth, children, and families. To that end, Volunteer Saskatoon, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Canadian Paraplegic Association, Restorative Circles Initiative and Catholic Family Services collaborated to provide a forum to work together and determine what steps need to be taken to strengthen mentoring practices in Saskatchewan. The concerns that guided the research were: 1) the internal and external factors that contributed to, or impinged upon, a successful mentoring program; 2) the program descriptions, resources, and inputs of each participant organization (PO); and 3) the steps that these organizations need to take collectively in terms of future training, research, and action. The research was completed by having the PO’s take part in a project consultation and then complete a questionnaire.
The research found that PO’s ranged from experienced to emerging programs; had a combined 982 mentees, 274 wait-listed mentees, eight different mentoring programs; and predicted that between approximately 1-10% of all mentor-mentee relationships would end prematurely. The research also concluded that: the total cost of the mentor programs was $664,500, half of which comes from government sources; the PO’s had a combined 611 volunteers and eight employees; and all PO’s had access to a substantial amount of intellectual resources and expertise (volunteer recruitment and screening being the most available, fundraising and special events the least).
The PO’s felt that the factors that contributed most to their success were both external and internal in nature. Internal factors that led to a successful mentoring program were: diverse and appropriate programming suited to community needs; intra-agency commitment and cooperation at the local and national level; and an effective communications strategy that makes it clear to potential mentors and mentees that only moderate success should be expected. External factors that lead to a successful mentoring program include: access to steady government funding that is not tied to a specific program; volunteers; community support; and intraagency support or referrals.
The research also noted those factors that were deterrents to success. Internal deterrents included: staff turnover and stress; weak fundraising capacity; and mentor and mentee mobility, which results in broken relationships. Highlighted external factors were funding shortfalls (due to increased demand for programming) and a lack of volunteers, the latter due mostly to people having a lack of time in today’s busy world.
The researchers concluded that the time is ripe for Saskatoon’s mentoring community to join together, a conclusion with which all the PO’s agreed, stating that conducting future research together and sharing their expertise was a priority. Some areas that the PO’s recommended for examination were volunteer recruitment, mentor-mentee screening and matching, and program evaluation.
This research report is the first step for these mentoring organizations to work together and bring about positive change in Saskatoon. With continued support from the community and government, mentoring can continue to be an intervention strategy that improves the lives of youth, children, and families.