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This commentary is by Joshua Jarvis of Milton, a financial adviser who’s on the board of Mentor Vermont and does one-to-one youth mentoring through the Milton Community Youth Coalition/Milton Mentors.
After three years of the pandemic, Vermont youth are in crisis. The social isolation of the public health emergency has resulted in skyrocketing mental health demands for our young people and severe gaps in student academic progress.
Every Vermont community is feeling the impact and Vermont’s systems are struggling to respond. Teachers are burned out with little resources, parents have nowhere to turn, and hospitals and health systems are suffering from a lack of staff and capacity to meet the ever-growing needs of our kids.
Young people in Vermont need help and Vermont already has a connective tool that is evidence-based and shown to have proven mental health benefits. By employing this tool, youths have been shown to be more likely to attend school, participate in sports and community activities, and less likely to use electronic vapor products or to make a suicide plan.
Not only does mentoring help the youth, it also benefits the community members who volunteer as mentors and offers an impactful balm for the increasing disconnection we all feel. I have personally received an immeasurable amount of satisfaction from being a mentor. Time that my mentee and I spend together is often one of the most fun parts of my week. Whether we are building Lego sets, going to the movies, or doing art projects together, I genuinely look forward to, and enjoy, the time we share. Our relationship has enriched my life in so many unexpected ways and I foresee myself continuing to mentor throughout my life.
I have seen firsthand the power of mentoring — both as a mentor and a mentee. Growing up, I was lucky to have a supportive family structure and many positive role models and mentors who naturally entered my life — all of whom were critical in shaping me into the person I am today. Undoubtedly, I would never have made it as far as I have without those mentors in my life.
Recognizing that one in three young people will grow up without a supportive adult to turn to outside of their immediate family, I’m eager to support formal mentoring programs and help close the mentoring gap.
The difference one trusted adult can have in a young person’s life cannot be underestimated, in part because that relationship helps make youth feel like they matter to their community. When youth feel like they matter, they thrive.
Studies show when youths feel like they matter to their community, and have a consistent adult they can trust, they develop “protective factors.” Youths with protective factors are less likely to engage in risky behavior and are more likely to set goals and achieve them.
Mentoring matches can be fostered for very little investment and often last for several years, but the youth mentoring field needs more funding to meet the demands. I am currently on the board of Mentor Vermont, which supports youth mentoring agencies across the state. Despite public support, state investment in mentoring has not increased since 2007 and was decreased in 2011 to the level it remains at today.
Youth mentoring coordinators continue to do a lot with very little and have to dedicate a fair amount of time to fundraising to keep their programs afloat. With waitlists across the state and some Vermont communities lacking programs altogether, the time to invest in mentoring is now.
By increasing the quality and quantity of safe and effective youth mentoring relationships in places where young people live, learn, connect, and play, mentors can help every young person feel like they matter.
Mentor Vermont has launched the Maximize Mentoring campaign to urge lawmakers and decision-makers to provide more investment into this protective tool. Please urge your lawmaker to invest in your communities and to help promote more connection for our youth and the adults that mentor them. It will help our young people, support our teachers and parents, and strengthen our communities.