I recently heard the metaphor that developing, supporting and sustaining mentoring programming but failing to advocate for mentoring and youth development policy simultaneously, is like knitting a sweater on one end just to watch it unravel on the other. In order to expand mentoring opportunities for young people at the local, state or national level our role as mentoring practitioners must also be to advocate and help implement policies that positively impact young people, their families and our communities. It is difficult to accomplish our goals of ensuring that young people have the positive, quality mentoring relationships they need if we do not urge our elected leaders to introduce, implement and vote for policies that create the best chances for young people to grow up in healthy, safe and thriving communities. At MENTOR Nebraska, our mission is to fuel the quality and quantity of mentoring across our state, but we know the importance of impacting mentoring at the systemic level, and this happens, in large part, through policy and advocacy.
Policy and advocacy has always been a large part of our mission, and this past year was no exception. In early 2019, we endeavored to take on a major initiative to pass legislation across Nebraska to allow state employees ‘flex-time’ within the work day to volunteer as mentors. Mentor recruitment is a struggle for nearly every program across the state. This legislation would open up an entirely new pocket of eager volunteers to support youth through mentoring relationships.
In order to accomplish this feat, we worked with State Senator Tom Brewer who championed the bill, and mobilized our program partners to speak out about how this legislation would positively impact youth in their communities. We demonstrated to the legislature the many benefits of mentoring and the ways in which state employees could support a positive youth development prevention and intervention strategy for the entire state. Our mentoring program partners were essential in explaining the real life experiences and triumphs of their mentees, mentors and programs. It took several months of follow up meetings and phone calls with senators, and several adjustments to the language of the bill, but we continued to work with our lawmakers. Good communication, relationship building and grassroots organization prevailed, and in June the legislation passed.
In January of every year, MENTOR Nebraska also serves as the State Captain for MENTOR’s Capitol Hill Day, and uses this opportunity to build relationships with the delegation from our state. Being a State Captain is a wonderful way to provide leadership to mentoring programs across our state, demonstrating the importance of advocacy and working together to bring about change. This year, that critical relationship building and commitment to young people from elected officials was especially evident when Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon co-introduced the Foster Youth Mentoring Act with Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA). Representative Bacon is an avid leader in the child welfare community and when we discussed the importance of mentoring as a support for foster youth, he was able to take our expertise and impact in his district and translate that into action at the federal level.
This summer and upcoming fall as you plan for training, recruitment and support of your mentors and mentees, I challenge you to join MENTOR Nebraska and other mentoring programs who are working to transform the systems and infrastructure that our young people live in by reviewing this resource on Creating an Advocacy Plan for a Non-Profit and creating your own advocacy plan and turning it in action!