“Potential is everywhere, opportunity is not.”
Lindsey Westburg is the Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Magic Valley (BGC). During her 15 years with the organization, she’s seen many young people recognized for outstanding leadership, academic excellence, and service through the club’s Youth of the Year Award program. What strikes her most is that when the award candidates give their required speech about their experiences at BGC, they always focus on the influence of a mentor.
“The kids talk about the programs here that have helped them, of course, but they all feel that it’s the personal relationship they had with a club staff member or volunteer that motivated their success,” Westburg says. “It’s really powerful.”
Being mentored can impact many aspects of a young person’s life; compared to peers without a consistent mentor, they do better in school, make healthier choices, and are more likely to volunteer. One Youth of the Year Award recipient recently called Westburg to tell her she had begun volunteer mentoring with a local organization; she realized how much it had benefited her and wanted to pay it forward.
Many youth in Twin Falls benefit from additional support and guidance in different areas of their lives. The BGC programming provides an opportunity for them to connect with club staff members or volunteers, forging bonds that can provide invaluable encouragement and direction.
“Some kids need help with life skills like learning how to budget or pay bills—or navigate the college application process,” explains Westburg. “A lot of our kids’ situations are cyclic—if their parents didn’t go to college, they may not think that’s an opportunity for them.”
Once a trusted mentor relationship is established, the students often realize there are new and different paths open to them. “When someone’s not only talking about opportunities and encouraging the teen to pursue them, but also helping them with the process of doing those things, it’s a game-changer,” says Westburg. “The kids feel empowered to succeed.”
National Mentoring Month
Each January, National Mentoring Month celebrates the positive impact of mentorship. The annual campaign—which is led by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership—shines a light on the power of mentorship, and encourages communities to expand quality mentoring opportunities to connect more young people with caring adults.
Research shows that mentors play a powerful role in providing young people with the tools to make responsible choices, attend and engage in school, and reduce or avoid risky behavior like drug use. Research by organizations like MENTOR and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America finds that specific benefits to youth mentees include:
- Students who meet regularly with their mentors are 46% less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs and 27% less likely to start drinking alcohol.1
- Mentoring helps reduce depressive symptoms.2
- At-risk young adults with a mentor are more likely to participate regularly in sports or extracurricular activities.3
- Students who meet regularly with their mentors are less likely than their peers to skip class or a day of school.1
- Young adults who face an opportunity gap but have a mentor are 55% more likely to be enrolled in college than those who did not have a mentor.3
- Mentees report enhanced self-esteem, improved behavior at home and at school, and stronger relationships with parents, teachers, and peers.4
Mentoring Opportunities in Idaho
BGC’s Westburg invites people interested in mentoring to get in touch with her club or your local Boys and Girls Club location. “We’re always looking for people to come in and make a difference.” Pending background checks, BGC matches volunteers with their preferred age group or passion, like music, art, or cooking.
“It doesn’t have to be anything major,” she says. “Sometimes kids just need someone to listen to them or have someone they share something in common with.”
Other organizations in Idaho that offer youth mentoring opportunities include:
Agency for New Americans
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Idaho
Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Inland Northwest (Moscow area)
Catholic Charities of Idaho
Idaho Stem Action Center (shorter opportunities)
Idaho Youth ChalleNGe Academy