Final notes from 1/24-25 National Mentoring Summit

I received an email from MENTOR today announcing that photos, videos and workshop presentations are now available at this link.

I’ve been working on a final recap expressing some of my observations. I wrote here and here showing some of the people I met and comments I heard.

President Obama is coming to Chicago this Friday in response to the shooting of 15 year old Hadiya Pendleton. Thus, I hope some leaders will read what I share below, and browse some of the other articles I’ve written, and develop comprehensive, long-term youth development strategies in high poverty neighborhoods of the city and suburbs. This is not a problem that will go away after the high profile attention of this past two weeks.

As I listened to Congressman Elijah Cummings, MD, talk about mentors in his life, saying “I’ve had one mentor since I was 16;” and “We must do our part so they can deliver their gifts to the world;” I though of my own mentee, Leo, who I met in 1973 when he was in 4th grade. We’ve stayed connected ever since then. A few years ago we met on Thanksgiving morning at a Starbucks in Chicago and passed a video camera back and forth recording how important each of us had been to the life of the other.

Lack of market-based data
While many workshops focused on data and evaluation and accountability, I was struck by how little data was used in keynote presentations to show the distribution of programs and resources in different parts of the country. Furthermore other than showing a commitment to build the public will, I did not see an outline of a year-round strategy, or the engagement of partners from many different sectors to support the advertising frequency and reach needed to gain and sustain public and private sector support for a decade or longer. I did not hear anyone talking about building a distribution plan to make programs available in more places.

This does not surprise me. In my frequent Google searches I can’t find sites that focus on this the way I have done since 1993.

Use of Maps

In the main sessions of the Summit I saw lots of story telling, but too little data showing where mentoring is most needed, or where programs are already available. What numbers of kids need mentoring, based on age, demographics, economics, or other indicators?

If the data were being collected, it can also be mapped. No maps were used in the keynote sessions, or in workshops I attended, to show what populations of young people MENTOR seeks to serve, based on poverty, school performance, violence, or any other indicator. Such information is being mapped in many places and could be used on a national level to focus attention on areas with greatest need. The New York City initiative could have included maps in its presentation but did not.

Maps could also be used to demonstrate level of program distribution in these areas, and to highlight under-served areas. Without this information it’s difficult to lead any kind of on-going effort intended to reach kids in more areas, and to know if there is a growth in program reach from year to year.

Unclear priorities
New forms of mentoring, such as those targeted at adopted youth and youth with special learning needs (ADHD, etc)are exciting. However, they make the target for mentoring a mixed bowl of fruit. I think that in most forms of mentoring, our goal is to help youth grow up to be good citizens and productive adults (is it?). However, youth from different social/economic backgrounds have different levels of support already available in their lives. I think maps could help clarify the areas of the country where kids need the most help, while other forms of visual organization can still show that kids from many different backgrounds have a need for specialized forms of mentoring and extra adult support.

Marketing and Year-Round Strategy
I also did not find any workshops that showed strategies, or talked about building strategies, that would support year-round efforts intended to reach some of the goals of MENTOR, such as building public will, or increasing the number of volunteers, or the number of dollars supporting tutor/mentor programs. While National Mentoring Month is in January, events need to be taking place in other months. National Mentoring Month is led by the Harvard School of Public Health, not MENTOR. Perhaps other events throughout the year could become part of a year-round effort to draw attention and mobilize resources for mentoring programs and networks in various cities and states.

Expand Role of Media
With the need for year-round strategies that mobilize resources for programs in different neighborhoods and cities, I feel the media also have an expanded responsibility. The PBS American Graduate effort and the NBC Education Nation campaign are two of many media campaigns that focus on different parts of the same overall problem, but seem to compete for attention. If every media outlet in each city included a “take action” section on their web site, encouraging companies, faith groups, universities and individuals to do something today — volunteer, donate, partner, etc. –, every story could be part of a larger on-going effort to build public will and draw needed operating resources and talent to all tutor/mentor programs in each city.

MENTOR could put together a calendar showing all of the different media events, and work to have them point to the MENTOR web site and other sites where people can become involved in local programs. As media become more focused on generating resources, not just attention, I’d like to see the September American Graduate and Graduation Nation events move into late August, or have a build up that starts in late August, to have greater impact on volunteer recruitment in the first few weeks of Sept. Programs have screening, matching and other work to do with a volunteer before they are matched with a youth, which could last until mid October, which means the first six weeks of the school year is lost and for some kids who get into the wrong peer group, they may be lost forever.

In the same line of thinking, National Mentoring Month could have a December launch, intended to influence more charitable support of mentoring programs, not just the intermediary organizations.

Need better data collection tools

I’ve been trying to automate the collection of information about tutor/mentor programs since 2004. I’ve also been working to create maps that show who attends a conference and the composition of my network. I’m doing this with volunteers, but learning from some of the brightest people in the world through forums like the Education Technology and Media MOOC #ETMOOC at

Tracking impact of our campaigns and showing flow of attention and resources directly to local programs would be a useful tool. I created this graphic to illustrate the idea. Can we develop tacking system that automatically captures “opens” on different web sites resulting from a “campaign” such as the Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska Coaches Recruitment Competition?

The Coaches Competition organized by Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska is pretty unique and could be duplicated in other states if the leaders and resources were available. Lots of work was involved in organizing this. Playbook of the three states organizing this is available.

However, this is not the only effort involving celebrities and athletes. I know sports organizations are involved in other cities, like Memphis Grizzlies Foundation is in Memphis. A national effort is the United Way Team NFL which has a goal of 1 million mentors. 300 United Ways involved. Another national effort is the Corporate Mentoring Challenge

It would be great to have someone keeping a master list of such campaigns. A map showing colleges or sports teams with mentor mobilization campaigns could be useful. A map showing businesses with strategies for mobilizing and supporting volunteer-based mentoring programs would be useful.

It would be even better if every city had a master database of tutor/mentor programs that various campaigns were using throughout the year to point volunteers and donors to, and that were being used to show the effect such campaigns were having on the distribution of programs in places where they are needed.

I wrote down many of these thoughts as I attended workshops at the Summit this year and in 2012. I could only attend a few of the workshops and probably won’t find time to go through all of the archives to learn what else was presented in other workshops and planning sessions. However, I did not see any presentations outlining tipping points, or theory of change, focusing on strategies that build and sustain mentor-rich programs in high poverty areas of big cities for the many years it takes for a youth to go from first grade to first job.

Perhaps these were being shared in workshops I did not attend, or are on web sites of some of the organizations partnering with MENTOR to host the Summit. If they are, please share links so I can expand my own library of strategies and collaborations. As we learn more of what works in different parts of the country we can use blogs, MOOCs, Facebook, Linked in and other on-line media to share these ideas so they can work in more places.

I hope that by sharing my ideas others will be stimulated to share their own thinking on blogs like this or on wikis and web pages and that we can connect and gain greater attention to such strategies as we move from this year’s Summit to next year’s summit.

If you’re writing on topics like this please share a link to your web site in the comment box or submit a link to the library at