Last year, Get IN Chicago collaborated with Illinois Mentoring Partnership (IMP) on a technical assistance program to strengthen mentoring programs and learn more about what works best for high-risk youth in our city.  Participants learned best practices, gained research insights, and embarked on quality improvement through workshops, trainings, and site visits with mentoring experts from IMP.  They also found space to vocalize their greatest successes and challenges and collaborate on solutions with a professional learning community of other mentors.

IMP hosted a culminating event for the group in June.  There, keynote speaker Dr. Troy Harden celebrated the mentors’ work and connected it to Get IN Chicago’s mission of identifying the most effective programs to reduce youth violence.

“Researchers need you,” he implored.  “We need longitudinal work about mentoring, but we also need mentors on the ground who can help us ask the right questions and ultimately create stronger systems.”


Credit: Ollie Photography, Inc.

In panels and open conversation, the group reflected on takeaways from the year.  Many appreciated incorporating trauma-informed approaches and resources into their mentoring.  Repeatedly, they tagged building and solidifying relationships with youth as the most challenging – but ultimately most fulfilling – aspect of their work.

“There was a lot of testing from the kids in the beginning,” explained one mentor.  “They wanted to figure out if we really cared, if we would stick around.  It took time to build a base of respect.”

Since GIC youth have histories of truancy, justice-involvement, and trauma, trust is absolutely crucial to a successful mentoring relationship.  To foster it, IMP recommends prioritizing the matching process.  In particular, acutely high-risk youth should be paired with mentors of similar background or with whom they share common interests.

Youth in attendance agreed: the ability to trust a mentor was high on their list, along with the opportunity for new activities.  One young woman admitted that seeing her friends work with mentors ultimately swayed her.

“I actually didn’t join at first. A lot of people come in and say they’ll help us, but don’t,” she explained. “But then I saw some of my friends really liking it, saw it having a positive impact on them.  That’s when I finally decided to do it.”


Credit: Ollie Photography, Inc.

Other challenges noted by IMP and the mentors included working in a school setting, hitting length and frequency of sessions as required by evidence-based curricula, and using data to illustrate achievements and outcomes.  These findings echo what Get IN Chicago research has revealed across Chicago’s CBO community and reiterate the need to increase focus on community-based services, program dosage, and measurement.


Credit: Ollie Photography, Inc.

Moving forward, Get IN Chicago is committed to addressing and helping organizations meet these challenges head on.  Strengthening our city’s corps of mentors, therapists, and service providers is key to giving our youth the support they deserve.

“Mentors don’t push us out of our comfort zones,” noted a young woman.  “Mentors push us as far as they know we can go.  They set high expectations for us – but only because they know we can achieve them.”

What does being a mentor mean to you? Illinois Mentoring Partnership asked Get IN Chicago mentors that question – check out their inspiring responses!