An adult man sitting with young male on the bleachers

5 Steps to Becoming a Youth Mentor

Updated April 4, 2022 . AmFam Team

Are you hoping to become a youth mentor? Learn how to get involved in a youth mentorship program like Big Brothers Big Sisters and what skills are needed to be a great mentor.
a man and woman smiling

You need flexibility in your schedule to volunteer.

American Family Insurance agent, Charles Holt, sought ways to give back that also worked with his busy schedule.

“For years, my wife and I looked for ways that we could give back. But with the holidays being an especially busy time for us and busy schedules, it wasn’t easy to find the time. We just kept talking about how someday we'll start volunteering in some way. When Big Brothers Big Sisters came up, it felt like a great opportunity. It was something I could dive into — the idea of mentoring someone who needed help.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters allows flexibility to people with busy schedules and changing lives. Bigs are asked to meet with their littles for a minimum amount of time per week, but they can decide within the month what works best for both of them.

You want to learn how to connect with kids.

Charles also said he got involved because he wanted to learn how to interact with children.

"I don't have kids, so in a way, I saw this as a learning experience for myself. I've never really spent a lot of time with a nine-year-old before, you know? What do they do, what do they think about? So, not only would I be helping someone else, but it would also give me insight into what being a dad someday would look like."

a man and a boy walking on a dirt road with trees and hills in the background

You want to provide someone with the same mentorship you received growing up.

Did you have a mentor in your life? Do you have one now? Sometimes, the best way to thank your mentor for their guidance is by becoming a mentor yourself!

Josh Rayborn, American Family Insurance sales planning manager, was inspired by his mentor growing up to help other kids reach their potential.

"I grew up in Chicago, and I was part of youth program. My mentor guided me through life and taught me how to dream big. When I moved to Indiana, I knew I wanted to be a mentor, and I reached out to Big Brothers Big Sisters to get involved."

You want to do something that fulfills you.

While youth mentoring is designed to help the child, it can also benefit the mentor. Take Amanda Robertson, a recruiter in Talent Acquisition at American Family; she was looking to do something meaningful with her time when she decided to become a big sister with the program.

“I had just graduated college and I wasn't doing a lot of valuable stuff with my time besides working. I did have two or three jobs, but other than that, I wasn’t doing anything truly valuable with my time outside of hanging out with friends and family. I wanted to make better use of my free time.”

Ready to Get Started?

Did any of these stories speak to you? If so, or if you’d like to learn more about youth mentoring, the next step is learning how the process works. We’ll walk you through the steps to take with the help of the bigs.

1. Look within your community to get involved

Step one: Get involved! While you could find someone to mentor on your own, many communities have programs specifically designed to connect you with a mentee. Use the power of the internet to look for mentorship programs near you.

In fact, there might be a Big Brothers Big Sisters near you — they have over 250 affiliates across the country after all!

While every location has slightly different requirements based on where you are, these are the requirements that are generally needed when you apply:

  • Bigs must be over the age of 21
  • Must be able to be in the program for the minimum required time of commitment in your area
  • Possess a valid state-issued driver’s license
  • Have access to an insured car
  • Undergo a background check
  • Provide a list of references

2. Find a match

After you sign up and follow the application process in your area, it's time to find you a match! Bigs and littles are matched mainly on personality traits, goals and similar interests by a match specialist.

The timeline of the application and matching process can vary. There are scenarios where you could be matched the day after you submit your application, or it could take a couple of weeks. Sometimes, however, it can take a bit longer. It took four months until Amanda was matched with her little.

“I really learned the power of patience during that time,” Amanda reminisces, saying, “I’d follow up a few times, and they assured me they were working on it. I was a bit confused about why it was taking so long. But then, after meeting my little, I realized she was the perfect match for me. I feel like they really matched our personalities, and the interview and application process had value. I think that's why it's been so successful.”

So, if you decide to go through Big Brothers Big Sisters or a different program for youth mentorship, remember to trust in the process and practice patience. It’ll be worth it in the long run!

3. Meet your mentee and their family

Once you are matched with your youth, it’s time to finally meet! This meeting is conducted with you, the little and their guardian and the match specialist.

Charles walked us through his experience meeting his little and his little’s family saying, “After you’re matched, you go to the little’s house with the match specialist and meet with the little and the parent. I think we were there for one or two hours. While you're there, you try to really understand each other; you ask things like where you are from, what you do, what you're interested in, what you're looking to get out of the program and other questions like that. It’s a chance for everybody to meet each other in an environment that's comfortable for the kid.”

Charles continued saying, “After that, there was yet another interview to see how that in-person session with the family went and if you felt like it was going to be a good match. The same follow-up interview is happening with the little and his guardian as well.”

Once both the big and little agree that this is a good match, it’s time for them to connect and spend time together. Let the youth mentorship begin!

4. Spend quality time together

While the minimum amount of time spent with your little required by Big Brothers Big Sisters differs between locations, most ask that you meet two to four times per month to spend quality time together.

What do you do together? Spending time with your little is special and fun! You both get to try new things and get to do something you haven’t been able to do since you were little!

a man jumping in the air

Dan, who lives in Wisconsin, shares what he does with his little, saying, “We go to the farmers market, basketball games, he taught me how to snowboard — I had never done that before, so I was super nervous about that — movies and sports. We also do homework, goal setting and reading books together at the library. There are so many fun things you get to enjoy that you wouldn't do as an adult. Now you have a reason, because you have a little to enjoy it with.”

Josh enjoys showing his little new things. He introduced him to baseball, something Josh grew up loving and is now something they appreciate together. Josh also introduced his little to volunteering. “It was new to my little; he’d never done something like that before. When I asked him what was his favorite thing to do together, he said volunteering.”

a man and a child

Amanda and her little loved to go to some of their favorite places. “Before the pandemic, we were regulars at the bowling alley, she likes to paint pottery, the zoo and occasionally, like once a year, I would try and do something really fun or unique like take a trip to a famous museum or aquarium.”

If you’re struggling to connect with your little, the match specialists are there to support both the big and the little. Dan explained this process saying, “They talk to both the little and guardians, as well as the big to check in from both perspectives on how the matches are going. If there are concerns on either end, the specialists serve to provide resources and coaching for both the little and big. They want to make sure that it’s a healthy match and if there are any concerns, they're able to support and intervene as necessary.”

Pivoting During the Pandemic

While spending time with your little is important, their safety (and yours!) is the number one priority. So, when the pandemic hit and social distancing continues, the bigs had to adjust to make their mentorship work. In-person meetings were cancelled, and meetings were asked to be done online. The mentorship program offered online Zoom events for the bigs and littles to participate in.

However, some families lacked the technology and internet access to attend these events. This was the case for Charles and his little. Charles and his little could only talk on the phone a couple of times a week.

Charles opened up about these challenges saying, “It was tough to just stay in touch with him and let him know that I'm there for him. I wanted him to know I was there if he needed me, and I’m just a call away.” Charles reached out to his local Big Brothers Big Sisters program and was approved to drop off care packages to his little to show his support through different ways.

Dan has also found innovative ways to connect with his little during social distancing through the power of books. He says, “My mentor at American Family recommended I start this book series, Way of the Warrior Kid, with my little. He suggested it’d be beneficial for me and my little because it teaches life skills like how to handle your ego and emotions, how to handle bullies and shows that being disciplined creates freedom in your life. The series has life lessons, but it's done in a fictional story. So, he gets to learn these important life lessons without me necessarily telling him and it serves as great reminders that I apply in my life as well. Then, we get to have these calls to talk about the book, have deep conversations about the messages from the story, and how he plans to apply that to challenges he’s currently facing.”

Some Big Brother Big Sister locations are currently not accepting new applications due to the pandemic. Make sure to check on your local website to see if it’s available to you or not.

5. Find ways to dig deeper

Making real, deep connections with your youth is what makes mentoring so rewarding. But connecting with someone substantially younger than you with different life experiences can be a challenge for both the youth and mentor. Our mentors shared how they were able to dig deep and create these connections with their littles. Here’s what they have to say:

Josh and his little took time to grow close due to their similarities, saying, “It took time for us to really connect. We’re both reserved and he is not a texting or calling kind of kid. We utilized the Big Brothers Big Sisters worksheets designed to help us converse in the beginning.”

Overtime, Josh and his little grew to be comfortable and close with one another and he’s reassured by his little saying, “Sometimes I’d wonder if I was doing this right, but then I’d see a big smile on his face or his eyes grow big when I show him something new or we are on the jumbotron at a baseball game. Eventually, he started reaching out to me to hangout and that’s when I realized I’ve really made an impact.”

While Amanda has been a mentor to her little for six years now, she almost gave up at the two-year mark. She shared what happened and what ultimately brought them closer together, saying, “I started dating my now husband and while nothing changed with our routine, I felt that she was pushing away. She didn’t want to hang out with me and said she didn’t enjoy our time together anymore. I brought in the match support specialist and her mom to talk about what was happening and how we could fix this. Looking back at that time, I think she was concerned that I was going to get married and start a new life without her. After speaking with the specialist and the mom I made sure to really emphasize that I'm here as long as she wanted me to be here. I'm not going anywhere and she’s in my life no matter what. After that, things really changed. I could feel her opening up to me more. That’s when our relationship really took off.”

a pair of hands holding each other

Whether it’s a pandemic or simply a new life stage, things change — and that’s okay. As long as you find solutions and show your commitment to the program, you can tackle any obstacle that comes in the way of your mentorship.

6. Commit to your youth mentee

When you make a commitment to volunteering it’s more than making a promise to a program, it’s dedicating yourself to a person! Different Big Brothers Big Sisters locations require different time obligations depending on the location, but most require one to two years in the program.

While the program only requires a couple years, our employees and agents plan to surpass the minimum requirements.

Charles cautions how important it is to commit to your youth mentee saying, “There's a reason they ask you to complete the minimum time commitment. You really need to make sure you follow through and not just give up on a kid because it doesn't work or you don't really have the time. You made a commitment, so you need to find a way to make it work.”

Not only is a mentorship like this a commitment to a child, but it’s also a commitment to yourself. Dan shares how mentoring can make a lasting change in the big’s life, saying, “From the big’s perspective, you learn so much about yourself and the power of mentoring. I think oftentimes we focus on the benefits the little receives, but you benefit even more. The joy you feel watching someone develop and grow is indescribable. And he's now growing with larger dreams and doing things he didn’t think he could do. Mentoring is the power of connection and humility.”

Amanda, who has been a volunteer for six years, also says her experience being a youth mentor changed her perspective on giving back, saying, “I used to think volunteering was more like a one-time thing, maybe like just around the holidays, but I I've come to realize that it's more than that. For me, volunteering is really just about making a difference in someone else's life.”

So, whether you plan to go through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, or you choose a different path, becoming a youth mentor can be a life fulfilling experience. You can show someone a whole new world of possibilities and give them the tools they need to dream big. Just like any other relationship, it takes time, patience and commitment. Are you ready to change someone’s life?

If being a youth mentor isn't the right fit for you, there are plenty of other places that need volunteers!

Looking for other ways to support your dreams or others? Check out other inspiring articles and resources to motivate you to make a difference.

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