>> Tips from Dr. Mentor!

This section of the website collects advice from Susan Weinberger and the other MCG consultants on a variety of mentoring issues, as well as answers to client questions. If you have a question for Dr. Mentor, please email us at drmentor@aol.com.


Since I began designing mentoring programs for youth in the early 1980s, I have detested calling these young people “at risk.” I continue to espouse how I feel for anyone who will listen. The term “at risk” has negative connotations and we need to stop using it.

When we label a youth “at risk” in the classroom, they are labeled in the community, they are labeled in the media and they become labeled for life. I believe that the term “at risk” should be permanently eliminated from our vocabulary. Instead, let’s call these young people on the brink of success and we, as youth leaders are in the business of ensuring positive youth development. Over the past 27 years, some people have actually listened to me. I often meet someone whom I have not seen for awhile. They will remind me that they stopped calling youth “at risk” after my teaching them. I am always so grateful.

Now finally a much more powerful and well known organization has jumped on my train. In a press release on April 2, 2013, the Urban League of Central Carolinas officially rejected the use of “at risk” to define clients. They will no longer use the term. The change in language is a natural progression of their empowerment approach. Defining families and youth at “At Risk”, they stated, diminishes their true value and creates a ‘them’ and ‘us’ paradigm that reinforces economic and social barriers to success. The Urban League has chosen instead to adopt the term “At Opportunity.” They anticipate that the new terminology will be integrated into their entrepreneurial, workforce, education, and outreach programs for the over 5,000 people touched by its services and programs each year.

This is a move in the right direction for the Urban League. It is surely a positive beginning. While I still prefer “at the brink of success”, any terminology that positions youth in a more positive light is okay in my book! I hope that others will follow their lead.


This list of tips for mentors has been helpful to so many programs, and their mentors, over the years. Let me know if you would like to reproduce it for your program!


This article first appeared on the Communities in Schools of North Carolina blog.

The difference between mentoring matches that fizzle and die or those that last the long term is a combination of on-going support of matches by staff and implementation of multiple ways to say thank you.

January is the 10th annual National Mentoring Month. It is proclaimed each year to create awareness of the importance of mentoring, the benefits for youth across the country—including North Carolina—and to recognize and thank mentors, mentees, school staff, parents and others for their commitment and belief. The theme this year is “Help Them Get There” and appropriately urges individuals to sign up to be mentors and provide the advocacy and direction that young people need for a successful future.

Not only during January but 365 days a year, recognizing mentors is a key strategy to ensure sustained matches. The two little words, “Thank You,” go a long way. While mentors will often declare that they do not need a thank you and what they get out of the relationship are thanks enough, nevertheless, all of us benefit tremendously when we feel appreciated and thanked.

There is a high attrition rate among mentoring matches today. Staff of mentoring programs must do a better job to encourage matches to stay for the long haul, no matter at what age the mentees get involved. We must encourage mentors to experience the joy of being there when mentees reach high school graduation with their mentor by their side, sharing this milestone along with the mentee’s family. I believe this is the ultimate goal of a mentoring program. In any mentoring relationship, the mentor has an important role to play with their mentee in order to “help them get there.” How can programs guarantee this kind of long-term success?

The best way I know to find out how mentoring matches are working is for staff to ask mentors and mentees, in person, and not together, on a bi-monthly basis at a minimum, three very important questions: 1. How are you doing?, 2. What can I do to help you? and 3. What are your issues and concerns? Through this regular inquiry, staff of mentoring programs can nip problems in the bud, offer help and resources to assist where needed and ensure that for the most part, matches will continue for a very long period of time.

There are many different ways to recognize and thank mentors. These include, as examples:

  1. Features about mentors and mentees in program brochures and newsletters;
  2. Mentor/mentee of the month salutes via e-mail and the Internet;
  3. Articles about mentoring matches in local newspapers;
  4. Panels with mentors and mentees on local cable access television stations;
  5. Public Service Announcements by mentors and mentees on radio;
  6. Presentations twice/yearly at Board of Education meetings by mentors and mentees;
  7. Posters, bus shelters and billboards featuring high profile, recognizable community mentors and their mentees;
  8. Testimonies by mentors in movie theatre ads;
  9. Letters to the Editor written by teachers, parents and others acknowledging and thanking mentors for their role;
  10. Features about mentors in Chamber of Commerce newsletters;
  11. Mentoring website columns written by and about mentors and mentees;
  12. Special recognitions on Thank Your Mentor Day (on January 25), including cards written by mentees to their mentors, staff pausing to thank mentors and special thank you events; and
  13. Parking spot in front of schools reserved for Mentor of the Month.

This list is just a beginning. Recognizing the dedication and commitment of mentors and the benefits of mentoring is essential to long lasting matches. Happy National Mentoring Month! Thank you for all you do for the youth of your community. Don’t forget to thank your mentors today and every day.

MOVIE REVIEW: "The Blind Side"

During January, National Mentoring Month, I decided to see The Blind Side staring Sandra Bullock. My husband had warned me that I would love it, based on the previews, because it was a great mentoring film. I had seen my share of movies with mentoring themes: Stand and Deliver, Gran Torino, The Soloist, Role Models (not a very good example of mentoring) and Great Debaters, as examples. I wanted to see what everyone was raving about. What I took away from it was unexpected. The film is incredibly authentic.

The Blind Side is a story about a homeless boy, Michael Oher (played by Quinton Aaron) who becomes a football champion and Baltimore Ravens first round draft pick with the help of a most unlikely, rich and inspiring good Christian woman, Leann Tuohy (played by Sandra Bullock) who believes in helping those that are less fortunate. The most interesting piece about the movie for me is that I imagine there are people in the theatre on any given day that must think it is fictitious, improbable and highly exaggerated. The irony is that it is a true story based on Michael's life and rise from poverty and is told in Michael Lewis' book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game.

As with all of the other mentoring movies I have seen, I began to think about where the theme can be placed in the continuum of mentoring's quality assurance standards today. After all, I am always espousing that any agency that establishes a program had better follow them to the letter. The Blind Side is in my estimation a sterling example of informal mentoring.

Michael Oher grew up with a disinterested Father and a drug addicted Mother. He spent years in Foster homes and wandering from here to there. After staying with a friend one night, the friend's father decided to get his son into a private school. Oher tags along and gets accepted, too even though his academics and skills are hardly on grade level. He is befriended by Leann Tuohy and her family. Their daughter attended the school and they begin to help Michael out.

No, surely the Tuohy family never went through a criminal background check, nor did they have assistance from an organization or agency with their mentoring. In the non-profit sector, we cannot afford to conduct ourselves otherwise. We must ensure maximum protection for the youth that pass through our doors.

But much like the neighbor next door that may have given you cookies and milk in the afternoon when your own parents were not home - and a listening ear - the Tuohys offered Michael their heart and their hand in a non-judgmental way. They set an example about caring for an individual for who he is without concern for background, race or ethnicity. Leann in particular encountered many skeptics along the way that questioned her motive. This is truly a sad commentary. Leann's motive was pretty clear to me. She wanted and succeeded in making a difference in the life of another.

The movie is also a poignant reminder of my own relationship with my mentee, an African American woman now 23 years old whom I met when she was 7. I am so proud of how far she has come. I am so grateful for our long term relationship. I am also well aware of the challenges in her life.

No, The Blind Side is not an exaggerated example of the truth. It is what exists for thousands of young people all over America today. How many of them may never have the opportunity to be embraced by someone who takes the time to care about them? Whether informally or as part of formal mentoring programs, we still have a lot of work to do.

See the movie. It is sad, inspirational and gives me HOPE for the children of the world. Let me know what you think.



Recently I reviewed a series of four Citizen of the World Guides written by Steele Curry, a colleague of mine in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The good news is the four, entitled Make the Right Impression on Everyone Everywhere, Find the Right Job & Excel: You Can Make a Difference, Be A "Pro" Communicator in Every Sense of the Word, and What's Really Important for a Wonderful Life, can be downloaded free on www.COTWguides.com. Take a look at them and invite your mentors to use all or parts of each when working with their mentees. The guides are geared for older youth, who can also use the advice themselves.



This is the time of year that we begin to think about New Year's resolutions. RESOLVE to lose weight; RESOLVE to exercise more; RESOLVE to mentor.

I am thinking about the future of mentoring as we begin 2010, a new decade. Here are my hopes that perhaps will become fulfilled resolutions. I hope we will:

1) Attract, prepare, and retain high-quality teachers who will in turn become our advocates for mentoring

2) Ensure that youth who are mentored will graduate and decide to become mentors themselves, giving back for what they got.

3) Reduce the premature closing of matches, some after just six months. In spite of all our efforts, there is still a high attrition rate among mentoring pairs.

4) Expand the role of staff in monitoring and supporting mentoring matches.

5) Invite the federal government to find out what works and does not from mentoring and research experts BEFORE they prepare RFPs for the field.

6) Require our mentors to serve in the strong role as advocate for youth especially around school-related issues.

7) Encourage mentors to work with the families of the mentees.

8) Use performance measure practices to ensure program sustainability.

9) Find ways to reposition school funds through Safe and Drug Free Schools, 21st Century and Title I to offer program sustainability.

10) Ensure sustainability of matches for more than just one year. It is time to require a minimum of TWO years in programs.



The following information can be used to train new mentors on the importance of setting achievable goals with their mentee:

Why do mentees need to set goals in the first place? It is a chance for anyone personally or professionally to:

If you follow these 10 easy steps with your mentees, they will be on their way to achieving their goals. You might even share one of your own personal goals and participate in the same exercise as your mentee.

1) Write it down - make sure your goal is specific, measurable and time-bound.

2) List your personal benefits - identify exactly WHY you want to achieve this goal.

3) Analyze your current position - specific strengths, weaknesses and opportunities relating to achieving the goal.

4) Identify obstacles and risks - everything that could possibly prevent you from achieving the goal.

5) Identify sacrifices - time, money and sacrifices that you will have to make.

6) Knowledge - what additional knowledge you need to acquire.

7) Support team - list the people, groups and organizations you may need help from and what role they all play. Perhaps your mentor is among them.

8) Develop your plan - list each activity and any tasks to complete.

9) Set a deadline - on what date you will achieve this goal.

10) Reward and celebration - you deserve it. What will "it" be?

Always remember that the goals in a mentoring relationship must be the mentee's. While the mentor may have strong opinions about the route the mentee should take, the journey, the goals selected, must belong to the mentee.



Dear Susan: We are trying to boost our number of mentors but are having a hard time. Have you heard of any good slogans or key messages that seem to work for selling the idea of mentoring?
-- Jane, New Haven, CT


Marketing your mentoring program must take place 365 days a year. Too many programs wait until they are in crisis mode before they really begin to think about trying new approaches. I'm glad to see that you are being proactive.

Many program coordinators have been asking about new ways to recruit special groups of mentors: men, teens, seniors, congragations, etc. I recommend that the message, or slogan, be tailored for eah group to reach their particular "heart."

In the marketing workshops MCG conducts across the country, we always have fun brainstorming targeted messages. In the word document below, you will find a lisitng of some clever examples created by your mentoring collegues. If visitors to the site have other examples they would like to share, email them to Susan at drmentor@aol.com, and we will add them to the list. Hopefully, this will be come the largest collection of mentor recruitment slogans on the Web!

Download Mentor Recruitment Slogans (Word doc)