Our View: The power of mentoring

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At the most recent Coffee and a Newspaper event held Jan. 8 at the Steamboat Pilot & Today, the assembled group was asked to look ahead and identify what they thought were the most important issues facing Steamboat Springs and Routt County.

The discussion among the early-morning crowd quickly shifted to the topic of marijuana and whether its legalization for recreational use would impact Steamboat’s reputation as a family-friendly vacation destination. This conversation was triggered in part by the fact that the monthly newspaper event coincided with the opening of Steamboat’s first retail pot shop.

At issue

Mentoring fosters positive relationships between young people and adults.

Our view

Mentoring programs have the power to positively impact the lives of our youths, and they deserve community support.

Steamboat Today editorial board — January to April 2014

  • Suzanne Schlicht, COO and publisher
  • Lisa Schlichtman, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Karl Gills, community representative
  • Will Melton, community representative

Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@SteamboatToday.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

As the discussion broadened, conversation shifted to the importance of educating youths about the dangers of marijuana use and the role adults can play in ensuring children understand the issues surrounding the legalization of pot. Throughout the forum-style event, the discussion included the subject of mentoring and how powerful and life-changing one-on-one interactions between adults and youths can be, especially if the relationships are long-term and consistent.

Several people spoke about their volunteer involvement in local youth programs — such as Partners of Routt County, the Boys & Girls Club of Steamboat Springs and the Grand Futures Prevention Coalition — and the positive impact those efforts are making.

That discussion prompted further research and spurred us to conclude that mentoring has the potential to impact young lives in powerful ways, and the community should support any efforts to promote healthy relationships between trusted adults and young people, especially those classified as “at risk.”

The release of a national mentoring study confirms its value. “The Mentoring Effect: Young People’s Perspective on the Outcomes and Availability of Mentoring” is the first-ever nationally representative survey of young people that focuses on informal and formal mentoring.

Results of the report, released Jan. 14, show mentoring’s link to improved academic, social and economic outcomes. The study directly connects mentoring with improved academic performance as well as several other positive results. Some of the key data mined from the report shows that at-risk young adults who had a mentor are more likely to:

■ Be enrolled in college than those who did not (45 percent vs. 29 percent);

■ Report participating regularly in sports or extracurricular activities (67 percent vs. 37 percent);

■ Hold a leadership position in a club, sports team or other group than those who did not (51 percent vs. 22 percent); and,

■ Volunteer regularly in their communities that those who did not (48 percent vs. 27 percent).

The study also revealed that almost all the young people interviewed about their mentoring experience reported it as “helpful,” and more than half described the experience as “very helpful.” Nine in 10 respondents said they were interested in becoming mentors themselves.

Although “The Mentoring Effect” study indicates a huge increase in mentoring opportunities during the past two decades — from 300,000 at-risk youths involved in mentoring programs in the early 1990s to 4.5 million today — there still are young people, locally and nationally, who need mentors. An estimated one in three young people reach adulthood without connecting with a mentor.

Here in Routt County, Partners is one example of a local program dedicated to creating sustainable mentoring relationships between adults and 7- to 17-year-olds. There are 45 active one-on-one partnerships, with 25 youths awaiting a match.

Mentoring requires an investment of time and a serious commitment. But according to those who serve as mentors, if done right and with proper training and focus, it can form highly rewarding two-way relationships in which both the mentor and mentee benefit. Mentoring can involve helping a young person with homework after school, taking them to a sporting event or on a hike or just hanging out and enjoying a cup of hot chocolate and good conversation. The keys to these interactions involve consistency, commitment and communication.

Opportunities for young people to interact with adults outside of school and home can be life-changing, and programs aimed at strengthening those relationships deserve our continued support.

In addition to the individual value of these personal connections, mentoring also has positive impacts on communities that invest in such programs. Mentoring has a proven track record of reducing dropout and truancy rates, decreasing the incidence of alcohol and drug abuse among teens and promoting healthy decision-making and goal-setting.

And with January designated as National Mentoring Month, there is no better time than now to promote programs and practices aimed at fostering these important adult-youth relationships.

We encourage adults to consider becoming a mentor, and we support those organizations that are working to foster those relationships. We think the time, effort, energy and resources spent mentoring young people will result in stronger youth leaders, better schools, more engaged adult volunteers and a healthier community.

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