Imagine not knowing that you don’t have to be a product of your environment.

Imagine not knowing that you have unlimited creative potential of the universe inside of you. 

Imagine not knowing that beyond all thinking of right and wrong, there is freedom.

This is the significance of a youth mentoring program on young minds – the difference between a mind that has had these insights and one that has not. In other words, a mind that is free and one that isn’t bound by limiting thinking. Freedom of mind equals freedom to act. Those who experience this clarity of mind experience a significant improvement in their lives. With freedom of mind, a world filled with ideas and solutions opens up, allowing the perfect answers to the issues being faced by the mentee to be recognized. Through an insight-based youth mentoring program, a mentee’s overall quality of life improves because their mental state has improved. Relationships and connections to others are developed with more ease, increased agency is experienced, and mentees become better equipped to problem-solve, communicate effectively, and make healthier decisions. When a mentor is given the opportunity to guide a mentee to see the power of their own state of mind, these are just some of the incredible impacts a mentoring program can have on young lives.

Why is mentoring important for youth?                                                 

In December 2021, the United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a rare warning: Mental health challenges were leading to “devastating effects” among young people. His statement came as the suicide rate for young Americans ages 10 to 19 jumped by 40 percent from 2001 to 2019, while emergency room visits for self-harm rose by 88 percent.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released a new Surgeon General Advisory in May 2023, calling attention to the public health crisis of loneliness, isolation, and lack of connection in our country. Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately half of U.S. adults reported experiencing measurable levels of loneliness. Disconnection fundamentally affects one’s mental, physical, and societal health. In fact, studies show, loneliness and isolation increase the risk for individuals to develop mental health challenges in their lives, and lacking connection can increase the risk for premature death to levels comparable to smoking daily. 

Mentoring programs for youth address the need for connection for both young people and adults who’ve been isolated during COVID. There are numerous benefits to connection. See: Connection:The Key to a Successful Youth Mentorship Program

Creating connections is featured as the key component in the Surgeon General’s youth mental health action plan, including the following:

Strengthen Social Infrastructure: Connections are not just influenced by individual interactions, but by the physical elements of a community (parks, libraries, playgrounds) and the programs and policies in place. To strengthen social infrastructure, communities must design environments that promote connection, establish and scale community connection programs, and invest in institutions that bring people together.

Benefits of Effective Mentoring for Youth      

Marion Wright Edelman, the civil and children’s rights activist who influenced MLK, once famously said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” In other words, you are stuck in the self-created confines of what you can actually imagine yourself to be. If you can’t conceive of it, how can you be it? One of the biggest benefits of effective mentoring for youth is mentors guiding young people to see what they can become. It’s a game-changer to know that you are not stuck within the confines of your own thinking, and to see for yourself that you’ve only glimpsed the possibilities of your future self. Seeing other possibilities, more potential for yourself, unlocks an energy that guides you to reach better and better states of mental well-being and be in the world in a different way.

 When youth can see beyond these mental confines, we get Einstein, MLK, Ghandi, among many other heroes and mentors whose ripple effects have created social movements, brought justice and hope, and improved the quality of life for millions of people. The world can still feel the reverberations of the great mentor Martin Luther King Jr., who wrote to us from his jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, The Call to Conscious book and many others that illuminate his absolute mental clarity of conviction and inspired action. 

When people feel better, we do better. When a community has a group of people doing better, they see many benefits at the societal level including: crime prevention, less reliance on government services, and increased individual earning capacity, growing the tax base, and subsequently, and increased revenue for governments. Investing in mentoring is a win-win-win for individuals, communities, and governments.

Why Mentorship Matters

Mentorship offers a sense of belonging, one of the key indicators of psychological health and prevention of unwanted behaviors. The National Institute of Health defines sense of belonging as “the subjective feeling of deep connection with social groups, physical places, and individual and collective experiences.” And note that it “is a fundamental human need that predicts numerous mental, physical, social, economic, and behavioral outcomes.” 

Another psychological benefit of mentoring is an increased sense of self agency. Mentees can experience feeling helpless in the face of a problem, to feeling hopeful, to actually having the capacity to resolve them on their own. Increasing one’s sense of self agency is extremely empowering. When a mentee understands that they have everything they need inside themselves to resolve any issue they face, they experience life in a much lighter, more enjoyable way. They are able to come alive and participate in life differently than before. They become a force for good. 

Finally, the mentor plays a critical role in pointing the mentee back to their true self – the infinite creative energy underneath the thinking.  The mentors can be there to point back to the potential and light inside when their mentees, like all humans, inevitably fall back into their habitual thought patterns

How Our Mentorship Programs Make a Difference                                

The SPARK Mentoring Programs Speak to the Potential, Ability, and Resilience inside every Kid. These programs were thoughtfully developed and incorporate years of experience in mentoring youth, particularly those at risk.  All of our mentoring programs are built on our belief that each and every one of us has a SPARK inside – our metaphor for innate well-being, resilience, potential, and creativity. Your SPARK is your inner GPS or gut instinct – guiding you to make the best choices for yourself. Other unique features of our programs include:

    • Focus on mentor well-being. When mentors are living from their SPARK – mentees will sense it and become curious. We want SPARK mentees to actually see what living from your well-being looks like. It’s important that our mentors be the change we want to see in the world.
    • Descriptive, not prescriptive. Our evidence-based mentoring curriculum does not tell kids what to do – it’s not prescribing certain behavior for them. Rather, it’s describing the human operating system – the mind. It provides foundational knowledge as to how the mind creates our individual experience. When mentees understand how the system is working, life is much easier to navigate and key skills such as communication, decision-making, and problem-solving are developed.

Success Stories Impacted by Mentoring                                         

One of our favorite mentoring success stories highlights the Rebels for Peace – a youth led peace movement on the south side of Chicago. The founders of the group, DeJohn White and Prince Jimmar, were students at a charter high school on the south side of Chicago when they were inspired by the words of their future mentor at a Peace Summit. The insights the young men had that day and through continued conversation led to inspired action: a movement of young people in the community mentoring their younger peers. This story illustrates the transformative power of mentorship. Rebels for Peace mentors connected with their own well-being by gaining an understanding of how their mind works. From this place of clarity, they saw how they could reduce the violence in their community. These insights, as insights tend to do, came with a toolkit. The next right steps to mobilizing started appearing before them, like a yellow brick road to making a significant community impact. They now provide mentorship to dozens of schools in Chicago, showing kids the power of understanding your mind to make change.

Choosing the Right Mentorship Program                                       

When developing a community mentoring program, the key factor in its success will be the mentors themselves. Both in terms of their characteristics and the type of training and support they receive. 

Mentor characteristics

Connection and relatability: the mentors need to have a natural point of connection with their mentees. This is important to establish trust and rapport. There should be a common interest or life event such that the mentee can ‘see themself’ in the mentor. This will help break down any perceived barriers to connection and create the mental space required for new thought and possibilities.

Aligned Values: Community mentoring program coordinators need to consider how they can attract mentors that represent the values they want embodied in both mentors and mentees. These values typically include: respect, kindness, community service, of high moral character, and an open-minded, life-long learner.

Je ne se qais: also known as the “vibe-check.” How do coordinators and mentees feel in the presence of the mentor? What does their inner knowing sense about them? If the general feeling is that of ease, openness, and inspiration, you’re on track.

Mentor training and support

What kind of training support is offered to ensure mentors are equipped with the right knowledge and tools to successfully implement the program?

While some people are natural mentors and leaders, it’s important that mentors are set up for success with training and ongoing support. The most effective mentors understand the value of life-long learning and are eager to acquire new skills and knowledge to continually expand the positive impact they can make in the world. Youth mentoring programs should have a robust training and support plan to ensure the mentees are getting the best possible outcomes – something they deserve.

Parental Involvement in Youth Mentorship                                      

We strongly encourage parental involvement and support in the mentoring process. One of the pillars of our mentoring programs is helping parents to also feel better and thus do better. We’ve created several resources to support parents who want to have a better understanding of their children and themselves. Our parenting resources explore the following key questions:

  • What’s really going on when we feel disconnected from and frustrated with our kids?
  • What is resilience and what this means for trauma, anxiety, depression, divorce, self-esteem, and destructive behavior?
  • How does state of mind affect our access to mental resources, clarity, confidence, and capacity as parents?

Our parenting resources espouse no illusions about becoming a “perfect parent”. We will not give you a long list of dos and don’ts. Instead, we aim to simply show you how the mind works, which will allow you to navigate parenting authentically, with greater ease and less stress.  

The Future Impact: Building Resilient Individuals 

The insights and inspiration that come from an effective mentorship program last a lifetime and ripple through the community, building even more resilient individuals. A shining example of this is Brandon Evans, a former participant in the SPARKing Change Youth Leadership Program. This is a year-long program to cultivate young leaders who are inspired to make a difference in their community. 

Brandon is an active force for change in his community. He is the founder and CEO of Project 100, a 501c charity that organizes projects and events to bridge community gaps and empower young people. Project 100 passes on Brandon’s infectious hope for a better future by lifting up youth, bringing out their resilience, and showing them the way to a better future.

Mentorship Programs like Brandon’s nurture a better future with every young life they touch.

Finally, our mentorship programs prepare mentees for the future by showing them they are not stuck with what we’ve created so far. Everything we see is just a physical creation of humanity’s ideas so far. What haven’t we thought of in terms of equitable, just, inclusive, mutually beneficial systems? Freedom of mind gives us the power to re-imagine our communities, our world, and our future. 


In this critical time for our nation’s youth and those who are raising them, we cannot underestimate the significance of a youth mentoring program in shaping a better future. You can’t be what you can’t see. Giving kids the opportunity to see a mentor experience life in a way that differs from what the child usually sees, or behaving in a way they’ve never seen, opens up new possibilities for the life of the child. The aperture of their mind expands and that feeling of hopelessness, isolation, depression, or despair begins to dissolve away and can be replaced with hope, connection, love, inspiration, and creativity. 


Stephanie Fox, Director of Partnerships