Youth-Initiated Mentoring (YIM)

  • Description of Practice:

    Youth Initiated Mentoring involves supporting youth with engaging nonparental adults from their social networks (e.g., teachers, family friends, extended family members) in mentoring interactions and relationships. Key elements of the practice may include 1) providing youth with the opportunity to nominate potential mentors from their existing social networks as part of their participation in a formal mentoring program as well as 2) training youth in skills for initiating mentoring interactions or relationships with nonparental adults.


    The primary goal of the practice is to increase the amount and quality of mentoring that youth receive from nonparental adults in their existing social networks.

    Target Population/Eligibility of Target Sites:

    The practice, to date, has been targeted toward adolescents, including those receiving mental health care, youth with disabilities, and those reintegrating into their communities following residential programming.

    Theory and Evidence-Informed Principles:

    The practice is informed by a number of theoretical considerations (Schwartz, Rhodes, Spencer, & Grossman, 2013). Nonparental adults in youths’ social networks are likely to live in the same communities as them, thereby providing naturally-occurring opportunities for contact between youth and these adults. In addition, because such adults are also likely to be involved in ongoing roles with youth (e.g., extended family member, teacher), there may be increased opportunities for sustained interactions and relationships over time. In formal mentoring programs, providing youth with a significant role in determining their mentors also may increase their motivation and investment in these relationships (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Finally, youth initiated mentoring may foster empowerment among youth and build social capital within communities (Balcazar, Keys, & Garate-Serafini, 1995; Coleman, 1988; Rappaport, 1981).

    Corresponding Elements of Effective Practice:

    This practice is most relevant to the area of Recruitment within the Elements of Effective Practice. It does not, however, fall within the scope of the existing Standard for this Element or correspond to any of its Benchmarks or Enhancements. It thus may be best considered as an innovative practice in relation to the Elements.

    Key Personnel:

    The successful implementation of this practice is likely to require staff who have relevant skills and experience, especially as it pertains to supporting youth with exercising autonomy and voice in ways that are simultaneously attentive to their need for adult guidance or scaffolding (Larson, 2006).

    Additional Information:


  • Study 1

    Evaluation Methodology:

    Schwartz and colleagues (2013) examined the practice of youth initiated mentoring (YIM) using data from a larger evaluation of the 17-month National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program (NGYCP) that involved youth recruited from 10 NGYCP sites across the country. NGYCP targets youths ages 16-18 who have dropped out or been expelled from school and, at the time of program entry, are drug-free, not currently on probation or parole for anything beyond juvenile status offenses, not serving time or awaiting sentencing, not under indictment or charged, and have not been convicted of a felony or capital offense. Youth identify specific post-residential activities (e.g., GED program, community college, vocational training, a job, or military service) to be carried out with support of a mentor. At the time of program enrollment, youth are asked to nominate nonparental adults from their social networks as potential mentors. A more detailed description of the program and findings regarding its overall effectiveness can be found at

    A total of 2,320 youths were randomly assigned to participate in the program as part of the larger study at the baseline assessment and 754 youth were assigned to the control group. Follow-up assessments were conducted 9-months, 21-months, and 38-months after study entry. At the 38-month follow-up, a randomly selected subsample of 1,507 program participants was targeted with a response rate of 78 percent, resulting in a sample consisting of 722 program participants and 451 youth from the control group. This sample, which constituted the sample for the Schwartz et al. (2013) investigation of YIM, was 87.6 percent male, 19.1 percent Hispanic, 42.6 percent White, 32.4 percent Black, and 3.4 percent some other race. Among the youths in the program group, approximately 390 reported having selected their own mentors. The remainder reported having received help from their parents, having received help from the program staff, or having found their mentors in "some other way". Chi square analyses were used to determine whether any demographic and other baseline characteristics of youth were associated with participants’ method of selecting a mentor. It was determined that participants whose families were reported to receive public assistance were relatively more likely to report having selected mentors on their own or with the help of program staff and were relatively less likely to report having received help from parents in finding a mentor. No significant differences were observed based on reported method of mentor selection for other variables examined (i.e., gender, minority status, age, highest grade completed, drug/alcohol use, or suspensions).

    Researchers used logistic regression analysis to test for differences between youth who reported having selected their own mentors and youth who did not with regard to whether they reported still being in contact with their mentors at the 38-month follow-up (contact was measured through a single question asking the youth if he/she was still in contact with his/her mentor). This analysis controlled for baseline youth reports of age, gender, race, zip code, whether anyone in the youth’s household was on public assistance, highest grade completed in school, and suspensions, as well as for baseline mentor characteristics, including age, gender, race, zip code, and occupation. Data on mentor characteristics were gathered from a web-based data management and reporting system in use by programs.

    Evaluation Outcomes:

    Contact with Mentor

    Youth who selected their own mentors were significantly more likely to report contact with their mentors at the 38-month follow-up in comparison to those whose mentors were selected with help from parents, with help from program staff, or in "some other way." The odds of reporting such continued contact was 1.28 times higher for youth who selected their own mentors compared to youth who did not.

    Additional Findings

    In other analyses, program participants in the treatment group who were in contact with their mentors at the 38-month follow-up showed significant improvements on a range of self-report academic, vocational, and behavioral outcomes, including GED/high school diploma, college credit, months employed, earnings, months idle, and convictions, compared to the control group of participants who were not in the program.

  • External Validity Evidence:

    Available evidence indicates that YIM as practiced within the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program can promote longer term mentor-mentee relationships among adolescents during the period of their reintegration into their communities following residential programming in various locations across the United States. Evidence bearing on the effects of other forms of the practice as well as its effects in relation to other populations, outcomes, and program contexts is not currently available.

  • Resources Available to Support Implementation:

    No resources to support implementation of this practice have received review by the National Mentoring Resource Center.

  • Evidence Base:

    Schwartz, S. E., Rhodes, J. E., Spencer, R., & Grossman, J. B. (2013). Youth initiated mentoring: Investigating a new approach to working with vulnerable adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology, 52, 155-169. doi:10.1007/s10464-013-9585-3

    Additional References:

    Balcazar, F. E., Keys, C. B., & Garate-Serafini, J. (1995). Learning to recruit assistance to attain transition goals: A program for adjudicated youth with disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 16, 237-246.

    Coleman, J. (1988). Social capital in the creation of human capital. The American Journal of Sociology, 94, 95-120.

    Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

    Larson, R. (2006). Positive youth development, willful adolescents, and mentoring. Journal of Community Psychology, 34, 677–689. doi:10.1002/jcop.20123

    Rappaport, J. (1981). In praise of paradox: A social policy of empowerment over prevention. American Journal of Community Psychology, 9, 1-25. doi:10.1007/BF00896357

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