Volunteer training is one of the first steps in supporting volunteers in mentoring the youth in your program. The purpose of the training is to orient volunteers to the program and to give them tools to be good mentors. Volunteer training also gives staff an opportunity to get to know the volunteers and reinforce the goals of the program.
A study by Public Private Ventures indicates that mentors who attend fewer than 2 hours of pre-match training report the lowest levels of relationship quality, whereas those attending six or more hours of training report having the strongest relationships with youth (from Mentoring School-Age Children by Carla Herrera, Cynthia L. Sipe, and Wendy S. McClanahan).
A good mentor training educates volunteers about the challenges facing youth and about successful mentoring philosophies. Training encourages the formation of consistent and ongoing relationships. By practicing, discussing and thinking about their future mentoring relationships, volunteers will be better prepared to deal with the challenges that lie ahead.
The initial training should be substantive enough for the volunteer to gain an understanding of the mentee population and his/her role in supporting youth in achieving the desired outcomes, but succinct enough not to overwhelm volunteers with too much information. Your training should be organized to include only the relevant information, utilize a variety of learning methods, be interactive, and most importantly, be filled with individual “aha!” moments. Other logistical considerations include timing, environmental factors, and group size.
Before developing the curriculum of your mentor training, make sure you have a complete understanding of the youth/mentees you serve, their needs, possible issues that may arise during the mentoring relationship, and the kind of training mentors will need to effectively deal with some of those issues.
Although each program and community is unique, the following are some typical scenarios that emerge during a mentoring relationship:
- Youth misses appointments
- Youth does not call back
- Youth is in crisis: failing school, teen pregnancy, gang involvement, abuse, etc
- Youth pushes boundaries: time and money
- Youth is experiencing instability: moving, home environment, life stage, etc.
- Parental issues: jealousy, mentor mentoring parents, etc.
- Mentor does not set boundaries
- Mentor has unrealistic expectations
- Mentor tries to impose values
- Mentor does not allow time for the relationship to grow and develop at its own pace
- Mentor lacks understanding about background differences
- Friendship does not meet regularly
Your training can make a significant difference in preventing some of the issues mentioned above and/or in helping mentors deal with those issues effectively.