The United Way Features a Match Success from Children’s Friend Youth Mentoring Program

A new way to think about school success

Across the country right now parents are checking boxes on their back-to-school laundry list.

There is one factor that can directly impact school success for hundreds of kids on the North Shore this year. But it can’t be tucked in a backpack or bought at Staples. It may, however, be in your power to give.

After just 18 months of spending time with a mentor through Big Brothers and Big Sisters, kids are more confident in their schoolwork. Research shows kids with mentors are half as likely to skip school. They are less likely to engage in risky behavior such as illegal drug or alcohol use, less likely to use aggressive behavior, and more trusting of adults. All of this adds up to better school—and life—success for youth with the benefit of a mentor.

Hearing this, many assume that mentors must be teachers, tutors, or homework helpers. The surprising answer is no! Research continues to demonstrate a direct link between spending regular time with a trusted adult—doing anything—and more confidence in school. Playing basketball or eating pizza together increases the chances that a child will succeed in school. It’s not the specific activities themselves but the fact that they are done together that counts most.

Take for example John. He is a ten year old boy with a healthy, but understandably busy, family. Having lost his biological mother, he lives with his dad, step-mom, and three siblings. Needing more one-on-one time, he was referred to Children’s Friend and Family Services and matched with a mentor named Jim. Jim is a retired engineer who loves woodworking. For the first six-months of their match, John and Jim went to the driving range, for walks, or played laser tag. Then Jim suggested they try a woodworking project together and John loved the idea. They recently completed a family-sized picnic table for John’s backyard. In the future they plan to take on more projects and hope to sell a few to earn money for going to the movies together.

In just two hours per week practicing his own favorite hobby, Jim makes a lasting impact on John. This is one reason that North Shore United Way invests donors’ support in the mentoring program at Children’s Friend and Family Services. It is an effective way to reach youth, improve their lives and, in turn, help families and communities grow stronger.

A child like John is itching to share your favorite hobby. A parent would love to check the “mentor” box off their back-to-school list. Local youth mentoring programs will match you with a young person, provide training, and even give you events to attend together. Your match might have something to teach you in return. Mentors are surprised to find out how much they get out of making a new friend!

You can find mentor programs at Children’s Friend and Family Services or Big Brother Big Sister Massachusetts at volunteer.nsuw.org, the North Shore United Way’s local volunteer website. You will find these listed alongside many other terrific volunteer opportunities on the North Shore. Please join the North Shore United Way in supporting youth mentoring.

Sarah Bartley is a Project Manager with the North Shore United Way which invests in local causes focused on reaching youth and improving their lives. This column includes contributions from Big Brothers Big Sister of Massachusetts Bay, Children’s Friend and Family Services, and North Shore United Way. To learn more about how to become a mentor with one of these organizations, or to see the full range of Mentor-type volunteer opportunities available on the North Shore, click here.