President Biden declared January National Mentoring Month, recognizing “the dedicated mentors whose wisdom, guidance, and positive examples set our children on a sound path and help prepare them to succeed.” Mentors are especially important now, he said, as young people continue to navigate “complexities” arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and the isolation it imposed—from social and academic struggles to mental health challenges.
“As families and friends, teachers and counselors, coaches and co-workers, faith and community leaders, good citizens and neighbors, we can each play a role in helping the next generation of Americans achieve their dreams,” the President declared.
OJJDP agrees. The Office has long supported an array of mentoring initiatives, including one-to-one and group mentoring programs in community-based, school-based, workplace, and virtual settings. In fiscal year (FY) 2022, OJJDP funding for mentoring programs included:
- More than $69 million in awards to 19 organizations under the National Mentoring Programs and Multistate Mentoring Programs initiatives to provide mentoring to young people at risk for delinquency, victimization, and involvement in the juvenile justice system.
- More than $16.2 million in awards to 16 organizations under the Mentoring for Youth Affected by Opioid and Other Drug Misuse program.
- Nearly $2.7 million in awards to the National Mentoring Resource Center to ensure the mentoring field has access to comprehensive resources and training materials that advance the use of evidence- and research-based practices.
Boys & Girls Clubs of America has received OJJDP funding for the Detained Youth Mentoring Program since 2019. The program serves youth confined to short- and long-term juvenile detention facilities. Separated from their families and communities, these young people often face isolation and loneliness. A mentoring relationship with a caring adult can bring them hope. Under an FY 2021 OJJDP grant, the program is working to connect 500 youth with mentors at 10 sites across 5 states.
Mentors who volunteer for the Detained Youth Mentoring Program strive to help young people in detention believe they have the power to change their lives. Youth receive opportunities for personal development, with mentors providing both emotional and practical support. Each mentor-mentee relationship is unique, based on the young person’s needs and anticipated time in detention. Mentors may focus on helping youth develop healthy life skills, counter negative influences, or make decisions to prepare for community reentry, according to Kelly Crowe, Senior Director for Federal Grants Impact and Performance at Boys & Girls Clubs of America. After they leave detention, mentored youth often become involved in traditional programs at Boys & Girls Club facilities in their home communities.
The program’s success relies on collaborations between local Boys & Girls Clubs and agencies that are part of the juvenile justice system, including city or county juvenile courts, probation and law enforcement offices, and social services. Aspects of the program vary by location, depending on type of detention facility and the access it grants to the club. Sites determine how often mentors meet with youth and for how long.
To ensure a consistent pool of mentors, the Detained Youth Mentoring Program draws from Boys & Girls Clubs staff. They receive specialized training in positive youth development, trauma-informed care, and other approaches that can help them understand the challenges their mentees face, relate to them, and earn their trust.
“Incarcerated youth often find themselves in a cycle that they cannot break on their own,” Ms. Crowe said. “A lack of positive influences and the pressure to engage in negative activities in their community often prevents youth from recognizing that they have other options for their future. Our mentors are there to help youth see that there is a different path available to them and to guide them towards that path when they are ready.”
OJJDP’s Mentoring Grantee Geomap, an interactive online tool, offers a visual representation of OJJDP investments in mentoring throughout the United States and its territories. To search the map, enter a program’s identifying information, such as grantee name or location. OJJDP’s National Mentoring Resource Center website houses the geomap.