The Power of Mentoring

young man with older mentor

By Shayna Scholnick, LICSW
Promotor Pathway Director, Latin American Youth Center, Washington, D.C.

We commemorated National Runaway Prevention Month (NRPM) this past November. This was a time for all of us in this field to take stock of our work and the approaches we take to help at-risk youth. What evidence supports our programming? Is it meeting the needs of young people who have endured so much, and often lack basic connections with caring adults?

At the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) in Washington, DC, we emphasize mentoring as a way to connect with young people and show them their potential. According to youth.gov, mentorship promotes healthy relationship and lifestyle choices, better attitudes about school, enhanced self-esteem and confidence, improved behavior at home and elsewhere, and improved interpersonal skills for young people.

To ensure that youth make these essential connections, we utilize the Promotor Pathway®, a long-term client management intervention model. It is specifically designed to help disconnected youth who face barriers to achieving their educational, employment, and healthy living goals.

At the heart of the Promotor Pathway Model are the Promotores, or guides, who work one-on-one with youth to encourage participation in a broad set of LAYC services. Promotores also connect youth to other important resources within the community, like transitional living programs. Through intensive, long-term, one-on-one mentoring and case management, Promotores help their mentees build relationships that can transform a young person’s life.

For youth experiencing homelessness and/or housing insecurity, stable adult relationships can be a challenge. As young people move from place to place, school to school, or job to job, their personal networks constantly change. Relationships don’t just happen on their own — they need tending. And Promotores help that happen. This model provides LAYC youth with long-term mentorship and supports to help them build lasting relationships and a path to housing stability.

By folding in mentorship with other fundamental needs, including holistic and housing-related services, Promotores help youth connect the dots between healthy behaviors and long-term stable housing in the future — commitment to a job, for example, can lead to better opportunities and increased stability.

Youth often come to Promotores with complex social needs, influenced by past experiences with family conflict, trauma, or peer disconnection. Promotores help youth revitalize their current networks and forge new bonds, encouraging and intentionally modeling healthy relationship habits as the foundation for meaningful, long-term connections. Promotores are committed to the relentless pursuit of the youth’s success and remain committed for an extended period of time.

In 2016, the Urban Institute completed a randomized control evaluation of the Promotor Pathway. Evaluators randomly assigned one-third of eligible clients to a Promotor (treatment group); the remainder were eligible for all appropriate LAYC services but did not have a Promotor (control group). Evaluators administered a survey to 476 participants at baseline, 6, 12, and 18 months to measure changes in knowledge, skills, and behaviors in the Pathway’s three primary outcome areas: academic success, employment success, and healthy behaviors.

Researchers found youth who worked with a Promotor were 33% more likely to be engaged in school, 33% less likely to have a child, and 60% less likely to have spent the night in a shelter or on the streets than the control group. Following the publication of these findings, the Promotor Pathway was officially designated effective by the federal Corporation for National and Community Service, as the external evaluation had high internal validity, or strong evidence that the model itself (and not other factors) caused the positive outcomes observed.

Most importantly, we see the effect of the model on our young people every day. We see how youth who once had no one to turn to now have a caring adult readily available, someone who will help and care no matter the situation. Through this transformative relationship, we see them lose that sense of isolation and start to envision their lives as connected to others. This is the fundamental improvement we always look to see, during NRPM and throughout the year.

For more information on the Promotor Pathway, visit the Latin American Youth Center website. Find the closest Runaway and Homeless Youth grantee program near you on the FYSB Grantee Map.