MENTOR Illinois is currently providing technical assistance to mentoring organizations in our SYNC Cohort. Their support includes facilitating learning communities, sharing resources, and assisting mentor teams with strategies to improve engagement, retention, and outcomes. Learn more about a member of the MENTOR Illinois staff – Cheryl Howard-Neal, Director of Programs and Partnerships.

Cheryl Howard Neal MENTOR Illinois

How did you start working in youth development at MENTOR Illinois?
For the past 20 years, I have had the great fortune to work at several wonderful, dedicated, non-profit organizations in Chicago. From after-school programming to youth residential settings to mentoring and volunteer management – I have seen and experienced a lot! But the common thread for me in all those settings, was youth.  What do youth need?  How can we assist youth?  How can we ensure youth learn, thrive and realize their potential regardless of where they live or family circumstance?  For me, youth development is about looking at the assets of youth and then cultivating and tapping into what is already there, and mentoring does just that.  Mentors, both formal and informal, have the power to build youth up, expose them to new ideas and places and encourage them to be and do their best in all endeavors.  My work at MENTOR Illinois allows me to assist mentoring programs throughout the state, by sharing mentoring best practices, serving as a connector and resource to programs and providing technical assistance, so that their programs are strong and effective.  MENTOR Illinois helps mentoring programs that help the youth in our communities, that “ripple effect” is youth development!

What projects have you worked on with Get IN Chicago?
For the past two years, MENTOR Illinois has worked with a dedicated group of mentoring organizations that Get IN Chicago helps fund.  We have provided technical assistance to the mentoring cohort via group trainings, organization-specific trainings and program resources.  We have also assisted with workplan and curriculum development for the cohort. It has been our pleasure to support the mentoring cohort and be a thought partner to Get IN Chicago as it relates to mentoring and mentoring best practices.

What has been the most inspiring thing you’ve seen or learned in your work with our mentoring cohorts?
It has been amazing to see the commitment and “can-do” spirt of the mentors in the cohort.  Being a mentor is not for the faint of heart.  Often, the youth we are called to serve have challenges, sometimes greater than we could ever imagine.  The role of the mentor is to meet that young person where they are – obstacles to success, bad decisions, lack of support systems, and all – and then see how they can assist.  For the past two years, the stories the mentors in the cohort have shared of what their youth face – violence, lack of parental/family support, academic challenges, mental health concerns – are daunting.  But the mentors are steadfast and solution-based, which is exactly what every youth needs.

What excites you about SYNC?
SYNC is exciting because it provides youth the opportunity to get the tools and resources they need to be successful.  It is not limited to one individual, or service, or organization – youth have a full team to help support and guide them.  Having a network of caring supportive adults working together to help a young person, is truly invaluable.


Cheryl Howard Neal leads an activity at Get IN Chicago's SYNC kickoff.