Knoxville Leadership Foundation Spearheads a Collaborative Mentoring Project for Mentoring Organizations in East Tennessee

KLFKnoxville Leadership Foundation (KLF) is a 501(c)(3), faith-based, nonprofit organization formed in 1994 to serve a nine-county East Tennessee area. KLF’s mission is to engage organizations and individuals to collectively serve those in need—those who are vulnerable due to lack of education, employment, or resources necessary to overcome challenges. Since 2004, KLF has operated Amachi Knoxville, a mentoring program with documented success and a passionate response to the needs of children with one or both parents in prison. KLF is a member of Leadership Foundations, an international network of over 45 affiliates working to renew the most economically distressed areas in cities across the world.

A Collaborative Approach to Mentoring

KAMIThe Knoxville Area Mentoring Initiative (KAMI) is a collaborative mentoring project built on the resources of some of the strongest mentoring organizations in East Tennessee. KAMI is led by Knoxville Leadership Foundation (KLF) through their program Amachi Knoxville and with partners Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Tennessee (BBBS), Joy of Music School (JOMS), Girls on the Run of Greater Knoxville (GOTR) and the YMCA. The collective mentoring activities focus on various topics such as sports, nature, technology, building up self-esteem, the performing arts and traditional community-based mentor activities. It is because of this variety in programmatic activity that these partnering organizations knew a collaborative mentoring model would show the collective impact of their efforts.

One of the goals of the collaborative is to leverage the combined resources of its member programs to increase the number of mentoring relationships in the region, while increasing the efficiency, consistency and quality of staff and mentor trainings. But this approach also provides great benefits for the youth served across the member programs. Because of the collaborative, KAMI staff have the ability to recommend the program that best aligns with each mentee’s specific interests, such as sports or the arts, to ensure the most successful match possible. Additionally, KAMI has increased pro-social support for mentees, provided more opportunities for the mentees to engage in community activities, and created a broader mentoring network in the region.

Program Goals

The primary goals of the initiative are to highlight the importance of mentoring, to bring awareness to the collaborating organizations, support new mentor growth, as well as improve social support networks among participating mentees. KAMI works together to strengthen the existing mentoring activities of each partnering organization to improve behavior, attitudes, and outcomes for at-risk youth by connecting them with trained mentors in 12 East Tennessee counties, constituting a mix of urban and rural communities.

Building the Framework for a Successful Mentoring Collaborative

KAMI In order to build a framework that would help KAMI succeed as a mentoring collaborative, trust between the partners would have to be established. KLF established a KAMI advisory committee with leaders from each partnering organization and began meeting every two weeks. This provided each committee member with the opportunity to learn more about each other and their respective mentoring programs. The committee looked for similarities between the organizations in order to give them a starting point for future activities. Then, using components of the Elements of Effective Practice for MentoringTM  they began to build their model.

Through this focus on the Elements, they developed a mentor recruitment plan and for the first time in Knoxville, a mentor could go to one website ( to learn about mentoring options. Through the website, potential mentors are able to complete an interest form that helps to identify mentoring options available based on their interests. The committee identified minimum standards for a mentor that all collaborative organizations would endorse. They also put forth pre-match standards to provide an adequate education for each organization’s mentors. As they collectively worked on each of these enhancements, trust began to deepen, collaborative trainings and events were held, and knowledge and resources were shared to help collaborative members better navigate any issues with mentors and mentees.

KLF’s staff manage and oversee the KAMI collaborative. The collaborative team is made up of highly capable and experienced staff with expertise in specific areas, contributing to a highly functioning team. Each of the other four partner organizations assign staff to KAMI to ensure the partnership is functioning effectively and efficiently. Additionally, each partner has supporting staff that ensure the uniqueness of their organization is held intact while achieving both their individual organizations’ goals and the goals of KAMI. KLF has found that in a collaboration, clearly defined roles and responsibilities of each partner creates a healthy and functioning team.

Program Outcomes

KAMIBy joining forces and working together, KAMI has strengthened the mentoring presence in East Tennessee and the surrounding area. Collectively, KAMI has matched 1,432 at-risk children with a caring adult mentor and hosted 9 family fun days in just eighteen months. The collective knowledge of mentoring partners has allowed them to be more effective and bolder in their efforts to create and foster mentoring opportunities. Mentees have gained a broader vision of the cultural activities available in their community, from theater to sports. Mentors have increased knowledge of the issues that youth face and how they can make an impact. East Tennessee now has a collective relational support system of five organizations that can offer guidance to youth and their mentors, equipping them to face challenges and build strong relationships. Lastly, the collaborative has helped its member programs focus on their collective mission of creating a healthy community where East Tennessee youth can thrive.

Connections to Evidence-Based Practice

KAMI has experienced program success through their use of evidence-based best practices outlined in the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring TM (the Elements). KAMI staff received technical assistance (TA) from OJJDP’s National Mentoring Resource Center (NMRC) to facilitate trainings on the Elements. These trainings focused on recruitment and match support, as well as training on overcoming unconscious bias and addressing racial bias in mentoring relationships. This kicked off several months of ongoing training for staff, mentors, and caregivers with a focus on trauma-informed care, suicide prevention, domestic abuse, and the opioid epidemic. Efforts were also made to ensure that trainings helped adults understand the specific experiences, interests and contexts of the program’s youth, like discussions on what music mentees are listening to.

The KAMI Advisory Board, as well as site coordinators, traveled to Washington D.C. for the 2018 National Mentoring Summit convened by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. The Summit provided the collaborative with the opportunity to learn and engage in recent research-based and evidence-based mentoring elements. It also served as a time for KAMI partners to bond and build better relationships, and promote collaboration among members.

Next Steps


Through this invaluable work, KLF has learned a tremendous amount about working in a collaborative. KLF has taken the first step in this process by building a strong, trusting relationship between five organizations. Each organization has grown in their mentoring and match components; however, they look forward to increasing training opportunities, improving on collaborative recruitment approaches and continuing to find ways to streamline their work together.

With opioids ravaging East Tennessee, KAMI plans to empower mentee families, caretakers and mentors to help battle this epidemic. Poverty has increased in and around their communities, and KAMI has made a commitment to give their mentees hope and opportunity for their future.

Because of KAMI, mentors are better trained to deal with the issues their mentees face as they continue serving a growing number of children in the Knoxville area.

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