By Sarah Cook, President, and CEO of 18 Degrees
We’re reaching the end of the twentieth National Mentor Month, launched in 2002 to “recruit new mentors, advance the mentoring field’s legislative priorities, and drive meaningful change for young people.” We are proud of our mentoring program here at 18 Degrees, through which we currently serve 30 young people. Our mentors commit to at least 90 minutes per week with their matched mentee for a year, though many of the relationships have lasted beyond the year mark. The mentorship program is housed in 18 Degrees’ Pittsfield Community Connection, a collection of youth development programs that serve as a pathway to a safer, healthier, and more prosperous life for youth aged 10 to 24 by surrounding them with support to overcome challenging circumstances.
We think a lot at 18 Degrees about adding protective factors to the lives of the children, youth, families, and communities that we serve. Protective factors increase support systems and help individuals build the knowledge, skill, and ability needed to weather stressful situations and mitigate the impact of negative events. Mentoring programs help deliver these protective factors in abundance. Key positive outcomes for youth engaged in mentoring programs include increased self-worth, conﬁdence, along with connectedness to school and community. Young people also grow in their capacities as they try new things and expand their interests. Studies have shown that young people who are mentored achieve better academic performance, high school graduation, and college attendance rates and are less likely to show concerning levels of drug or alcohol use or employ violence.
As with all our programs, 18 Degrees is evidence-based, rigorous, and purposeful in our approach to mentoring. Mentors receive support from our Mentor Coordinator, our Volunteer Coordinator, and one another; we hold monthly meetings to talk through how mentees are doing, share best practices in mentoring, and discuss tips and advice. We also understand that a mentoring relationship involves the entire household. So we discuss how to best include caregivers in the relationship and support the broader home environment through our work. The 18 Degrees staff who support the mentors participate in state-wide and national forums and training programs, enabled by funders including Berkshire United Way, MassMentoring, and the City of Pittsfield.
At 18 Degrees, we are motivated by the belief that even when things seem dark, there is a new beginning over the horizon. Our goals are to provide services and supports that transform the lives of children, families, and communities by creating opportunities that inspire hope, promote possibilities, and fulfill dreams. Through our mentorship program and everything else that we do, we help new beginnings come to light.