Growing up on the fringe of D.C., it’s ironic to think that running around the White House Lawn during an Easter Egg Roll was the closest I got to politics. That is… until my first Capitol Hill Day in 2016! Thanks to MENTOR, I have learned how to effectively work with members of Congress (MOCs) and their staff to support our critical youth mentoring work.
Last year, MENTOR Illinois was incredibly fortunate to collaborate with staff from Senator Dick Durbin’s office on the S. 1658, The Mentoring to Succeed Act – legislation to establish or expand school-based mentoring for at-risk middle and high school students across the nation. During the bill’s formulation process, MENTOR Illinois worked to provide data from both the national and Illinois youth mentoring surveys. However, we wouldn’t have been able to provide recommendations and input if it weren’t for the critical relationship building we did during the last few years!
In Chicago – a city where risk factors like poverty, violence and failing schools are far too common – our mentoring gap is larger than most. We estimate that 80% of the 160,000 kids facing poverty are growing up without a mentor. The Mentoring to Succeed Act could help us close that gap by providing vital support for mentoring to strengthen outcomes for our most vulnerable youth. And we believe that will help disrupt the cycles of poverty and violence.
As you plan your own advocacy efforts, here are a few tips that helped us build strong relationships and a solid case for youth mentoring support in Congress.
Our Role in Shaping Legislation
Members of Congress need accurate information to determine how they will vote on legislation, as well as when they develop and build support for legislation. They simply cannot be the experts on every topic, so they rely on a variety of sources to inform them, including their staff, constituents, and issue experts.
Issue experts – that’s us!
Every time we communicate with a MOC or staff member, we see it as another chance to frame the challenges faced by youth in our community and the many ways that best-practice mentoring effectively addresses those challenges.
According to a recent congressional report, nearly half of all legislators agreed that “providing credible, reliable information” is the most important factor in gaining access to them and their staff. We continue cultivate relationships with our MOCs and their staff by:
Our Role in Preparing Ourselves to Advocate
MENTOR Illinois uses these helpful reminders before we interact with members of Congress every time:
Now that we’ve shared our best tips and lessons learned from collaborating with a Senate office we hope that you will turn advocacy into action, too! To learn more about how you can take action during Advocacy August click here.