How to Get Started

You have made a wonderful and very important decision in choosing to become a mentor. If you've reached this conclusion, you've done enough research to have an idea how different each mentoring situation can be.

Before you start to look at the programs that are available, think about and identify your own interests and needs.

Finding a mentoring program you're excited about and comfortable with can require some time and thought, but the good news is that there's something for everyone. The following steps will help walk you through the process of choosing a mentoring program that is right for you.

To help you decide which type of mentoring program you want, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What time commitment can I make?
  • What age of youth would I like to work with?
  • Would I like to work with one child or with a group of children?
  • Would I like to team with other adults to mentor a child or a group of children?
  • What types of activities interest me? Do I want to help a youth learn a specific skill, pursue an interest, help with schoolwork or just be a caring adult friend?
  • What mentoring location would I prefer?

While thinking about these questions, remember to be open and flexible to all the different mentoring programs and focus areas that are out there.

For more help, click on the sections that offer additional information on "Find a Program." You also can search the "Volunteer Referral Service" to find programs that fit your needs and interests. When using the VRS Advanced Search, begin your search by entering your location and the age group with which you would like to work.

How to Find the Right Program

As you start to review the mentoring programs available to you, be sure to consider at least three different organizations. You are offering to make a substantial commitment of your time. Be thorough in investigating your options before you choose the program that best suits your needs.

  • After you have selected several possible programs, talk to each organization’s volunteer coordinator.
  • Tell the coordinator you are thinking about mentoring a young person—or a group of young people—and would like to know if their organization offers volunteer opportunities for adults.
  • Describe the amount of time you have, the types of activities you are interested in and the number of children you would like to mentor.
  • Ask about the process the program uses to match young people with mentors.
  • Identify the different mentoring options the program offers (one-to-one mentoring, team mentoring, short-term mentoring, one-time projects, etc.).
  • Ask the coordinator about training and support for volunteers and about the application and screening process. The application process can include a written application, personal and professional references, a background check and a personal interview.

Don't be discouraged if the first program you select doesn't match your needs or you don't match its needs. If that happens, try again! Ask to be referred to another organization, or contact your State or Local Mentoring Partnership for another referral.

After selecting a program that feels like a good fit, you will move on to the application process. 

Common Concerns

When you join a mentoring program — and before you are matched with a young person — you will receive intensive training aimed at helping you understand and prepare for your role and responsibilities. Then, throughout your mentoring relationship, you'll receive ongoing training and support. That training and support should address the majority of your concerns. If it doesn't, don't hesitate to ask questions!

On this page, we've listed a few common concerns you may have. We understand that committing to mentor a youth comes with a lot of responsibility and may feel like brand new territory. You may worry that you won't know how to do this.

Try thinking about your background; you may have already been a mentor in informal situations. Maybe you helped a niece or nephew with schoolwork or listened to a youngster who thought nobody cared. In each instance, you were acting as a mentor.

By joining a mentoring program, you are simply formalizing your commitment to help guide a young person. At the same time, you get the benefit of comprehensive training and ongoing support.

What if...We don't hit it off right away?

It's not easy to trust a stranger, especially if you're a young person who's had a lot of bad experiences with adults in the past. It may take a while to build trust. Don't interpret caution as rejection. A young person may not show it — in fact, he or she may not even know it fully — but your help is definitely wanted.

What if...Something extremely serious comes up?

While most mentoring relationships develop and flourish without serious problems, things do happen. Mentors have an important role, but that role does not include family counseling or medical or psychological treatment. There are support systems in place for real emergencies. Contact your mentoring program coordinator for information. The most a mentor is expected to do — and should do — is to help guide a young person to the appropriate source of professional help.

What if...We don't have anything in common?

Many first-time mentors worry that differences in age, race, religion, education or gender will be insurmountable barriers. Actually, most experienced mentors report that mentoring a young person from a different background broadened their own horizons and deepened their understanding of other people and cultures.

What if... I can't mentor anymore?

This is a very serious concern. Mentoring is a deep commitment. There are times, however, when uncontrollable things happen — perhaps a job relocation or sickness — and you simply must withdraw from your mentoring relationship. If that happens, you need to talk with your program coordinator and discuss the best way to end the relationship.

Except for such unavoidable circumstances, it's best to stay in a mentoring relationship. You could do far more harm than good if you enter a young person's life, build trust and then abandon the relationship. Be honest with yourself when committing to be a mentor. If you aren't sure about in-depth mentoring, try one of the many shorter-term alternatives, such as tutoring or one-time projects.

What if...I do something wrong?

If you are there for your young friend no matter what; if you listen and really hear what's being said; and if you do your best to counsel and not to judge, you will have done everything right. Some young people are more ready than others for a mentor. Some may test a mentor's commitment. Try not to take such behavior personally. Just keep doing your best and following your mentoring program's guidelines. Gauge your success by your actions, not your mentee's.