Youths referred to the program often have multiple risk factors, such as having an incarcerated parent, being at risk for gang involvement, being bullied or bullying and not reaching their full potential at school. The group has seen an increase in referrals in recent years as the bad economy has put an increased strain on families.
In response, Friends for Youth has launched the Mentor Now Initiative, which has accelerated the application process, doubled the number of information and training sessions offered and reimbursed new volunteers for fingerprinting costs. The initiative also strives to find more male mentors.
"Since we have more boys referred than girls, we need more male mentors. Through this initiative, we hope to put the men back in mentoring!" says Rebecca Duran, program director of mentoring services at Friends for Youth.
New mentors need not have any particular skills or experience; they can be of any profession or age. After attending a one-hour information session and a six-hour training session, the mentors, or "Senior Friends," will be matched with a "Junior Friend."
"Many factors go into a quality match," explains Duran. "We look at characteristics that might be shared such as hobbies, personalities, number of siblings, and career interests."
The pair commits to meeting weekly for one year. During that time, they have support via a program coordinator who sets up group activities and provides free tickets to events.
"Even if they've lived in the Bay Area their whole lives, many of these students have never seen the ocean, never been to a baseball game, never seen the Golden Gate Bridge," says Duran.
The goal is for the pair to develop a natural friendship and hang out because they want to. In fact, 90 percent of Friends for Youth pairings continue beyond a year, which far exceeds the 30-60 percent success rate typically seen at other mentoring organizations. As a result, Friends for Youth has developed a mentoring institute to share its best practices with organizations nationwide, and in so doing, has impacted over 1.4 million young people since its inception in 1998.
One pair of friends who have surpassed their one-year anniversary is Mountain View resident Alice Bittner and her Junior Friend William. While they do many different activities together, for one-and-a-half years of their four-year relationship, the pair spent significant time raising money for William's class trip to Washington, D.C. They sold cookies and chocolate-covered strawberries, invited Alice's friends to a movie night and buffet that she and William prepared, and asked restaurants to save cans and bottles.
"William achieved his goal and was one of only 12 kids in the school who were able to go on the trip. I was the proudest mentor in the world!" Alice said.
Alice has enjoyed seeing William grow more mature.
"Originally, he didn't want to set goals. Now he says all the time, 'Alice, I have a new goal.' But the most rewarding part of our relationship is seeing that we both are willing to hang in there no matter how beautiful or how difficult it is," she said.
If you would like to learn more about becoming a mentor or about the Mentoring Institute, go to www.friendsforyouth.org. Upcoming information sessions are set for November 12, 16, 20, and 22.
Mountain View resident Jennifer Pence is founder of the Windmill Giving Circle and founder and owner of Academic Springboard, a tutoring group. E-mail Jennifer at email@example.com.