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The vision behind our Youth Mentoring Program

In March, our much-anticipated Youth Mentoring Program launched after much preparation. As we start to see the first fruits of this program, we wanted to give you an inside look at what inspired our program coordinator, Shawnee McDonnell, as she was creating it.

When I came to World Relief Memphis, I was tasked with creating a new program dedicated to mentoring refugee and immigrant youth. This took time to navigate as we worked to design a program that was safe in the midst of a pandemic that still kept most of us at home and unable to meet face-to-face.

Yet in the past few months, we were able to virtually launch a program that I am very excited about! It focuses on 15–24-year-old immigrant youth who have been in the United States for less than 5 years. This program allows room for these youth to create their goals, chase after them, and be supported in choosing what the next step in their life can be by pairing them with mentor in the community.

According to MENTOR, mentorship programs have been proven to increase the likelihood of students going to college by over 50 percent and increase the likelihood of students holding leadership roles by over 130 percent.

The benefits are clear, and Memphis community members have stated that a program like this is needed. As I researched the best way to design the program, what was truly heartwarming is that the youth agreed that they not only needed this program, but they also wanted it. They wanted support in achieving their goals and to meet other mentees and mentors with which they could build friendships. I received phone calls from many of our youth asking how they could get more information and where could they sign up.

This Youth Mentoring Program is important to me and World Relief Memphis because it aims for youth to feel heard and poured into. It aims to build self-confidence, provide a space for them to ask questions about what’s next, and show our youth that they are capable of accomplishing the biggest of their dreams.

I have had connections in the past that served as short-term mentors, and that is something that helped me learn about new opportunities in the community and financial aid options. Although that was a good experience, I often think about how I wish those programs offered more structure to support a stronger mentor relationship.

With that in mind, the WRM Youth Mentoring Program asks that mentors and mentees meet a minimum of 4 hours a month to allow the match to build a consistent connection. The vision for the program is that these mentees feel connected to their mentors and begin taking steps towards their goals, which are designed by the youth and can look a variety of ways.

We have seen mentees who want to learn English, some who want to go to college but just aren’t sure how, some that are looking for a career change, and some that just want to make connections in the community. We hope as the program expands that we will also be able to take trips throughout Memphis to colleges, different job sites, and Memphis attractions to give youth a first-hand experience of what Memphis has to offer. We also are working to provide technological assistance and financial assistance to mentees who qualify and need assistance to overcome barriers they face.

While this program is new, we have already seen positive improvements in some of our mentees. We have seen youth that have felt isolated and unconfident, begin making strides towards making friends in school. We have seen mentees that have had their grades improve, and mentees who are excited about what is to come. I have talked to mentees that strive to be doctors, real estate agents, business owners, and lawyers. I am excited to see what this program will blossom into after seeing first-hand how important it is.

Shawnee, thank you for your commitment to serving our youth! We, like you, are excited to see this program grow and develop in the months ahead, and we are so grateful for your vision on this project. If you want to be make a difference in the lives of our youth like Shawnee does, fill out a volunteer application today. You’ll be investing in change that lasts, and your time will be an invaluable contribution to our community through the lives of our youth.  

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