Youth Mentoring as a Tool for Community and Civic Engagement: Reflections on Findings of an Irish Research Study
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Brady, B., Dolan, P. (2009) 'Youth Mentoring as a Tool for Community and Civic Engagement: Reflections on Findings of an Irish Research Study'. Community Development, 40 (4):359-366.
Youth mentoring programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) are traditionally considered to be a vehicle for youth development rather than community development. In fact, the notion that the one-to-one engagement that characterizes the mentoring process acting as a form of community development appears somewhat counterintuitive. However, the authors use evidence from research among adult mentors with an Irish Big Brothers Big Sisters Program to argue that such programs are a valuable resource in terms of both community and youth development. Firstly, by encouraging awareness and empathy with young people and their families, such programs are extending the range and possibilities for civic engagement. Secondly, there is a demand among mentors for horizontal support and for the creation of a community of mentors. Support for such initiatives by program staff could help to overcome criticisms of formal mentoring programs for their individualized nature and go some way toward the creation of 'mentor rich communities.' Such actions could help to complement the bridging social capital aspect of mentoring with the creation of bonding social capital among pro-social and civic-minded adults. Finally, it is argued that youth mentoring programs would benefit from the introduction of community development principles. For example, use of locally participatory structures could help to develop programs, make them responsive to the needs of youth, and act as a support for the recruitment of volunteers.