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A Spotlight on The Mentoring Enhancement Demonstration Project (MEDP)

DECEMBER 11, 2018

Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) Central Indiana

BBBS Central IndianaMENTOR brings you a second blog post from our series of highlighting the work of grantees from the Mentoring Enhancement Demonstration Project (MEDP) funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. This innovative project, which began in FY 2012, was intended to test whether mentoring programs could make enhancements to their usual services that strengthened mentors’ ability to serve as advocates and take on more of an explicit teaching role with their mentees. The hope was that this approach might strengthen mentor-mentee relationships and lead to stronger outcomes for youth.

Now that the evaluation of the project is coming to a close, we wanted to highlight the unique and innovative approaches to teaching and advocacy developed by several of the funded organizations. These posts highlight their excellent work and can illustrate for other mentoring programs how they might approach program improvements and participate in research projects in the future. The National Mentoring Resource Center thanks each grantee for their contributions to the project and for sharing their reflections with us here.

To capture the experience of Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) Central Indiana, we decided to learn more about the project through an interview. Check out what they had to say below and feel free to leave a comment!

Project Name: Mentoring Enhancement Demonstration Project

Project Agencies/Programs Involved: Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Central Indiana

Why did you decide to get involved in the MEDP project? What motivated you to take on this effort?

MENTOR: Thank you for being willing to do this interview talk through your process with the MEDP project. And so the first question that we have is, why did BBBS Central Indiana (BBBSCI) decide to get involved with the project and what motivated you all to take on this effort?

BBBS Central Indiana: As an agency, this was our second OJJDP federal funded research project that we took on. We first did the Thrive Project, which helped our agency better understand the intricate processes when participating in a federally funded research project. It was during this project, stemming from our current work with Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets, we were introduced to several concepts of helping youth thrive and succeed. One concept was motivating a young person through discovering and nurturing their SPARK—a discoverable talent in all youth which gives them joy, energy and direction. We noticed some of the proposed enhancements in the MEDP project incorporated these concepts and we wanted to take it one step deeper. Additionally, we were intrigued with the project design which required a cohort of other Indiana Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies. This was an intentional approach and unlike anything we had done up until that point. It was interesting to have the opportunity to connect at a deeper level with other Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies.

MENTOR: That's awesome. I'm sure there was a lot you all learned. Do you guys think this is something you might do again?

BBBS Central Indiana: BBBSCI is always excited by the opportunity to participate in research projects or other avenues in which we can innovate. We view these projects as ways to grow our skills, test possible mentoring enhancements, and stay current in the field to better serve the youth in our community. Knowing the commitment required to successfully complete a project of this scale, we take a careful look at our agency priorities and capacity before applying to participate. Looking at our current five-year strategic plan, we would be open, yet selective on deciding where to place our resources.

Please describe how you approached the idea of teaching and advocacy in your program. How did you all determine the enhancements you were going to implement?

MENTOR: Thank you for sharing that, we look forward to learning more about your plans. While BBBS Central Indiana reflects on future research projects, for the MEDP project, can you describe how you approached the idea of teacher/advocate in your program and how did you determine the enhancements you were going to implement?

BBBS Central Indiana: Our enhancements were devised throughout the hard work and collective input from the cohort of BBBS agencies. We first approached the teacher/advocate concept knowing the mentor would need intentional guidance in understanding the qualities of the role. Knowing the mentoring relationship needed to progress beyond the introduction stage, we chose to begin implementing the mentor enhancement utilizing an in-person training at three-months. The three-month training laid the groundwork for how to demonstrate the teacher/advocate role. We brought the mentor back for an in-person group meeting with their mentee to teach the match best practices for goal setting and attainment. At the 12-month mark, we used a visual timeline to help the match reflect and celebrate their journey.

What new or enhanced practices were most effective in your opinion? Were there some ideas that worked better than others?

MENTOR: I know, there are quite a few of the elements and overall practices, we'd like to know what new or enhanced practices were the most effective in your opinion and were there some ideas that worked better than others?

BBBS Central Indiana: The concept of motivating youth through uncovering their SPARK is introduced to our mentors at the pre-match training. We encourage all matches to focus on having fun and building the relationship through intentional activities designed to help a mentee find their SPARK. Later in the mentoring relationship, the match began process of intentional goal-setting and devised a SPARK goal. This enhancement worked well because we gave the relationship time to develop, it was a goal that the mentee cared about, and we equipped the match with knowledge on how to set and achieve goals. The MEDP experience allowed us to test the enhancements on 11-18-year-old youth. We found it important for mentors to understand pre-adolescent and adolescent brain development. We have transitioned the importance of understanding youth developmental stages and common behaviors associated into our volunteer pre-match training. Another successful enhancement revolved around providing the mentors a source of facilitated peer-support. On-going mentor training is an important attribute to mentor success and we wanted to provide an opportunity for mentors to learn from and coach one another. We found it most effective when it was presented in a casual setting with a topic-based theme versus a strict agenda. Mentors were given the chance to support each other, but a staff member was present to facilitate meaningful discussion. We’ve incorporated multiple enhancements, however those are just a few of the most successful ones. Overall, we found better success in enhancements which presented a concept, but allowed for the agency to adapt and fit the needs of the individual or match. Flexibility was key.

MENTOR: Throughout our work in the mentoring field and in our affiliate network as well, we have met and collaborated with many practitioners who have a social work background and have expressed the significance of training others about the middle school/elementary developmental stage. Given the wide expertise of readers who have transitioned from social services to mentoring, what was the most challenging part of training mentors about brain development?

BBBS Central Indiana: In general, attendance was the hardest part of training. Regarding your question about the content, we found a lot of people were interested in learning about the connection between behavior and youth development. Provided the material is presented in an engaging format, mentors were interested in learning about the brain. Once we broke that concept down of areas where your mentee might be impulsive, and it might be hard for them in a structured setting, it was like a light bulb moment for a lot of people where they realized, “Yeah, maybe my expectations aren’t developmentally appropriate.” The moment we got them there, I think people were receptive to that concept. One other thing that I think is important to mention that we did within that age range was the concept of goal setting and understanding that that's at the peak where kids can start to conceptualize and understand short term and long-term goal setting at the best level. It was interesting to see that this worked with kids within that developmental framework and they were able to grab it. But it was also hard to make sure that it was a youth-centered goal, so the concept of SPARKS made that important for the framework to live and breathe and keep going.

We did an activity called "Color of Focus," where volunteers were asked to look for a certain color and count how many items were that color. And then we asked about the number of items were there of a different color? Mentors were then able to recognize that you see what you're looking for; that activity and concept was well received. This was an extension of helping mentors find a strength-based approach. The strength-based approach is needed in all mentoring relationships, but within this project it was tested most within the middle school age. Helping the mentor have a strength-based view of the relationship is a key feature of the Positive Youth Develop framework. I think that has a lot to do with how all kids grow and thrive in the type of relationship that nurtures their best outcomes and encourages them through their strengths. We were specific in teaching a mentor how to have a strength-based approach for them to let the youth tell them what they need and guide the relationship. On the contrary, we found mentors struggled in their relationship when they approached their role by placing your values and expectations on the child. We acknowledge those as behaviors of a “fixer” or prescriptive mentor.

Obviously a big part of this enhancement work was building tools and resources to support it. Can you tell us a bit about more about some of the key resources you used during this project?

BBBS Central IndianaMENTOR: Thank you for providing giving insight on a prescriptive big and how that role can impact the match. Let’s transition into elaborating on some of the resources you all created and/or used for this project. Prior to our interview, you shared some resources with us (MCQ, Sparks Goal Setting, and a Timeline Map). My first question is, are these the main resources that were used for this project?

BBBS Central Indiana: Yes, those were the main resources we used for this project. What was interesting about this research project is it did not come with canned enhancements. It came with concepts and it was up to the cohort to work together to figure out how we build these tools. In the other projects we've done, the enhancements were already provided, and we figured out how to implement them. However, for the MEDP, there was a lot of flexibility in being able to nuance and tweak them along the way. At one point, for the sake of the research project, we worried about consistency, but saw the value in learning how agencies adapt and change, and how do they work to develop these tools and work together.

MENTOR: It’s great that you all were able to do something outside of the norm. Earlier, we briefly touched upon the Match Characteristic Questionnaire (MCQ). Are there any additional details that you can share on what it was like building that tool and what made it a helpful resource for this project?

BBBS Central Indiana: The MCQ it is one document in itself; the top part asks mentors to list their three focuses of the mentoring relationship and rank order them. The bottom is more of a questionnaire format, that's the piece that would have been scored, but it's their motivation inventory.

This was helpful because, all mentors come into the relationship with certain expectations or motivations whether they have uncovered or verbalized them prior to this exercised. For example, it was nice to see when a mentor recognized they value education and it is a huge motivation for them. If their mentee wasn’t doing well in school or didn’t value education, we were able to see where the mentor’s expectations weren’t being met and coach them to re-evaluate their motivation and take a strength-based approach within the match. The MCQ was a good coaching tool. It was a pre-existing tool which our cohort leader discovered and recommended.

MENTOR: Thank you for elaborating on the MCQ, that was helpful in visualizing what kind of tools were helpful to mentors during this process. MENTOR is always interested in wanting to share resources with our larger network, would it be okay for us share that questionnaire with our network?

BBBS Central Indiana: It is okay to share with the MENTOR network; however, it isn't one that we put together, so it should still have all the rights onto it. The MCQ wasn't one of the resources we put together ourselves, but we did find it to be a good tool.

MENTOR: We appreciate you pointing that out, is there another resource or tool that you all put together that was also helpful?

Ed. Note: The agencies involved in this collaborative were kind enough to share one of the resources mentioned here for download and use by others. Please see the download link at the bottom of this post. If your program uses any of the resources developed by MEDP grantees, we ask that you give credit to the funded agencies.

BBBS Central Indiana: A couple different ones, we still use the six-month goal setting form which builds on the concept of SPARKS. As mentioned already, we used the concept of a timeline at the match anniversary to reflect, celebrate, and highlight pieces of their journey and see where it took them.

What didn’t work so well, or needs more refinement?

MENTOR: We talked a lot about what went well with some of these resources and tools. We’re also curious about what didn't work well or what possibly needed refinement throughout this process?

BBBS Central Indiana: I think something that was challenging was bringing in matches at different stages. In, our interpretation of this grant, we had specific times where we were going to bring in matches (three months, at six months, and 12 months). But relationships develop differently, a match at three months and the strength of their relationship can look a lot differently than the same match occurring at the same time. It was hard to say “You all should be at this point or you all should now move on to this next step” when maybe individual matches still needed more time at the previous step. Therefore, in our business as usual, we were always coaching based on the needs of each specific match. But things were challenging when they were grouped together. It showed us the importance of an individualized approach.

MENTOR: Individualized approaches is a great point. While there are some individualized approaches, were there some set standard approaches that remained consistent for you throughout the project?

BBBS Central Indiana: Yes, our agency was careful to ensure the activities and enhancements were consistent for each match in the project; they just may not have happened at the same time for each match. We found that one consistent theme was spending more time with the mentors and matches in an intentional way, allowed for deeper connections. Staff spent more time with the matches and in turn, got to know them better than some business as usual matches. Similarly, it was our impression that matches felt more connect to our agency because they were in our office and interacted with the enhancement staff with increased frequency. 

What might you tell other programs to avoid when thinking about making similar enhancements to their programs?

MENTOR: And knowing that this aspect of timing and everything won't be the same at every stage. What would be the advice you tell other programs when thinking about maybe implementing a similar enhancement to their program?

BBBS Central Indiana: Attendance was an issue we had and so I think I would say try to be creative in the ways that you invite people. Also consider, can you combine events or activities? How can you be flexible to fit a mentee’s or mentor’s schedule? You’re essentially asking more of them, so you want to be flexible.

As we mentioned in the very beginning, it’s important to consider a variety of components of your agency; staffing structure, priorities, etc...

Lastly, I think what was equally important in making the project successful, was informing staff early on. It was important to bring everyone along in the planning and early implantation process. Our first ever long-term research project, we did not do that. So, when it got to the enrollment stage, the staff that were tasked to make sure that everybody's enrolling and doing their baseline surveys and getting everything involved didn't necessarily understand or weren't invested at the same level. In MEDP, because we brought staff in early on to understand how this was going to help us and why our agency was behind it, we were able to be cheerleaders about it from the beginning. As a result, we also were able to role model that strengths-based approach that we're doing for the kids and the mentors, but for the staff because culture and attitude can have an impact on the project.

What was it like participating in a rigorous federal research project like this?

MENTOR: You have shared so much about your successes and areas of growth. Given that you have participated in other research projects, what was it like participating in a federal research project that had different levels of complexities?

BBBS Central Indiana: Our staff charged with implementing the enhancements included one long-term employee and one newer employee. For the new employee, it was challenging to learn the basic components of her job in addition to the implementing enhancements. However, as we’ve mentioned, eventually we saw that she was able to build stronger rapport with her matches who were part of the project versus those who were not. As for different levels of complexities, our enhancement staff were expected to learn and grow new skillsets. For example, they learned how to be a facilitator of in-person trainings or how to develop program tools and content. 

Any advice for other programs who might be participating in evaluations like this?

MENTOR: That's amazing, we’ve encountered mentoring programs who have models that support checking in with a bigs more than once a month who also describe a similar positive impact in rapport with staff and littles. To follow up on that, given that you all have gone through this project, do you have any advice for other programs who might be participating in an evaluation like this?

BBBS Central Indiana: It seemed to feel more successful having one leader for the cohort who was a paid staff outside our agency. This helped maintain momentum and ensure the project was completed timely

Although, we've mostly talked about the enhancements, the data evaluation and the points of data collection were equally important. Ultimately, if we're spending all this time, we want to make sure that the research team is receiving the information they need and will be able to use. So, managing survey compliance rates is an integral part of the process. We were also fortunate to have a staff within our organization overseeing the financial aspect of grant compliance. It’s valuable to have someone or a team charged with monitoring the budget, documentation, and recording staff time. Ultimately, there are multilevel ways of strategizing beyond the enhancements that’s crucial for an agency to understand as they go for larger federal funded long-term projects.

Anything else you’d like to share about your program?

MENTOR: These are all significant aspects that will be helpful for many programs. Is there anything else you would like to share about your program?

BBBS Central Indiana: We try to be an agency that embraces and stays on the cusp of new enhancements as they come out and try to adapt them on a local level. We appreciate MENTOR and we participate in their monthly webinar series. Our agency sees the value in collaborating with other local youth institutes and share best practices which are evidenced-based, informed and data-driven. We would say research projects like the MEDP are the ones that help us stay on the forefront.

MENTOR: Thank you so much. MENTOR is glad you all were able to participate in this project, learn so much, and are willing to share your work with the mentoring field.


  • Growth Discussion Chart
  • Sparks Cluster - a worksheet used during the 6 month Goal Setting Training. It lists sparks into different categories and is intended to help mentees identify a Spark.
  • Facilitator Guide to Sparks Matter - this guide helps explain how BBBS Central Indiana used the concept of Sparks in an activity with mentors and mentees.
  • Conversations on the Go - this is an example of a monthly postcard that’s mailed to mentors. Postcards included 3 themed questions and were intended for mentors to keep in their car and spark conversation between themselves and their mentee.

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