The Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s mission is to advance mentoring in the region by igniting community involvement, strengthening programs and empowering youth to succeed in life. The nonprofit partners with many other organizations in the region to help create, deliver and implement quality mentoring programs as well as provides training to 1,200 volunteers each year. As January is National Mentoring Month, we spoke with Executive Director Colleen Fedor about the impact of mentoring.
North Hills Monthly (NHM): Can you tell us a bit about the history of The Mentoring Partnership?
Colleen Fedor (Fedor): In 1995, a group of community leaders known as the Youth Crime Prevention Council met in Pittsburgh. That group consisted of mayors, foundation heads, superintendents of school districts, the Urban League, and law enforcement, and they asked ‘How do we prevent crime rather than respond to crime?’
Mentoring surfaced as a key area of focus—how do we connect kids with caring adults that will help spark interest and engage in really positive behaviors? There was a national organization called MENTOR/The National Mentoring Partnership doing similar work in other cities. Thanks to the leadership of two local foundations, it was determined that a local affiliate of MENTOR would be beneficial in our region, so The Mentoring Partnership was founded in Pittsburgh in 1995.
NHM: What is at the heart of what you do?
Fedor: We work to help mentoring providers of local programs understand and follow best practices and deliver quality mentoring to kids. We do that by working with formal mentoring programs, like Big Brothers Big Sisters, Gwen’s Girls, Homewood Children’s Village or school districts in helping them set up formal programs. We also work with ‘Everyday Mentors,’ like librarians and bus drivers and crossing guards and all the people who interact with young people, to help them be mentor-like in those interactions.
NHM: How many organizational partners do you have in Pittsburgh?
Fedor: There are about 145 formal mentoring programs in western Pennsylvania. We also help over 300 Everyday Mentoring® programs or organizations; those are places like the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh branches or the YMCA out-of-school time programs. Those are groups that don’t do a formal one-on-one match, but we help train their staff and volunteers as Everyday Mentors to really try to be more mentor-like in their interactions. School districts fall into that group, too, training teachers, staff, administrators, cafeteria workers; everyone who has touchpoints in the building.
NHM: What is the definition of ‘mentor’?
Fedor: We think of mentor as a guide or support. Mentors share their time and interests to develop relationships with someone. The experience is mutually beneficial and creates connections that enrich both peoples’ lives.
NHM: Is there an age or some other criteria for a young person to pair up with a mentor?
Fedor: Different programs serve different groups of kids. For example, Strong Women, Strong Girls focuses on young girls in grades 3-5 in various school districts. The students in the program are young ladies who would like to have strong female role models. Strong Women Strong Girls has local college women as their mentors. Other programs serve different groups of kids, for example, youth who have an interest in a specific sport or activity (like rugby or fly fishing), or who are focused on academic support or skill development. We are fortunate to have many different mentoring programs in our region—the ways in which kids can connect with additional supportive adults is remarkable!
NHM: What does it take to be a mentor? Do you need to have a special skill or talent?
Fedor: Great mentors are great listeners who commit to volunteering their time. We think that most people have the potential to be great mentors. They have to want to do it; they have to want to build a relationship. Mentoring is really a two-way street: building a relationship with someone you don’t know to learn some things together. That is a really critical part.
NHM: How does one learn to be a good mentor?
Fedor: The Mentoring Partnership provides mentor training for local organizations, and they provide that training for their volunteers. If needed, we provide them with a curriculum or materials and support them in that way. It is critical that mentors receive that pre-match training as a way to prepare them and provide the support they need to be successful in their new role.
NHM: How can having had a mentor contribute to someone’s success in life?
Fedor: Mentoring helps us get outside of our own small bubbles. It helps us learn more and find more opportunities. If you only know certain careers or neighborhoods, you are limited. Think about career exploration. If all you know is the jobs your parents or neighbors do, maybe you’ll think there is no other career out there. Mentoring helps expand your own world and the mentor’s world. It helps you be more aware and more engaged.
NHM: About how many kids have been mentored in our area?
Fedor: It has been growing steadily since 1995, but there are roughly 20,000 youth per year being mentored through 145 programs.
NHM: What is the demand like for mentors?
Fedor: There’s always a great need. What we find is that when people realize the potential of mentoring, they are eager to find mentors for their children. We are always recruiting new mentors for local programs and work to help people see that mentoring is about being a good listener and showing up. We all have the ability to play a role; that is the key message and why both formal and Everyday Mentors are important.
NHM: How will you observe National Mentoring Month?
Fedor: It is a national observance, and we really like to celebrate locally. All month long we work really hard to amplify and elevate mentoring in the community and on social media. For this January, we’re really focused on that importance of connections and getting people to think about the role that they play in their own lives. As much as National Mentoring Month is a celebration, we also like to think of it as a time of reflection. Most of us, hopefully, have had someone who has taken an interest in and supported us. The last Thursday of January is Thank Your Mentor Day—that day we charge people with sharing those stories and reaching out and thanking the mentors in their lives.
NHM: What is the main message you’d like to get across about The Mentoring Partnership?
Fedor: Young people need strong connections with caring adults who can help them succeed. Supportive relationships help us all succeed. They help our community and our families. None of us got here alone, and as a connected community, we can do more. We also want people to realize that it is easy to get involved. If you want to dip a toe into mentoring, visit our website at www.mentoringpittsburgh.org and learn about Everyday Mentoring and formal mentoring opportunities