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USA Freedom Corps Partnering to Answer the President’s Call to Service

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Office of the CEO


Remarks by David Eisner at “The Mentoring Continuum” Event to Celebrate Mentoring


OJJDP National Conference
Washington Hilton

Thank you very much, Dr. Goode. I think the best word to describe you would have to be extraordinary. Those remarks, everything you do every day – it’s all extraordinary. And thank you to Bob Flores for his tremendous leadership and vision. He is, quite literally, the reason we are all here today.

I want to thank all other speakers today, as well – they are all great examples of the commitment that runs through the room. You are, after all, the practioners and policymakers who work every day to lift up lives of so many children in this country. I’m delighted to have a chance to address you today.

I am also delighted to join this celebration of mentoring. January, of course, is National Mentoring Month, so this is the perfect time to celebrate. And by the way, “Thank Your Mentor Day” is January 25th, so you still have time to get those cards in the mail.

I’m not really joking. I think all of us at some point in our lives have enjoyed the guidance of a caring adult, whether it’s a parent, a coach, or a teacher, a rabbi or a preacher. Unfortunately, as we just heard, there are millions of children in this country who can’t count on that caring adult to be there. Some of them may find a helping hand in a volunteer, but far too many won’t be so lucky. So I want to celebrate today all those who serve as mentors and what we can do to make sure more children are able to find mentors.

When she opened this conference on Tuesday, First Lady Laura Bush summed up the true meaning of mentoring: “Children want us in their lives and they need us in their lives,” she said, “each of us has the power to make a difference in the life of a child.”

Mentoring is an especially effective way to make a difference in the life of a child. Consider, for example, that a landmark study by Public/Private Ventures found that at-risk youth with mentors were 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs; 53 percent less likely to skip school; And 33 percent less likely to engage in physical fights. The study also found that there were more intangible benefits: young people with mentors were more likely to report positive attitudes about themselves and their families – and about their prospects for the future.

In part, this is because mentoring is a way to address the whole range of challenges and opportunities in a child’s life. The same mentor who can help turn a young person away from risky behaviors can help with homework or job training. More to the point, a mentor builds one of the most elusive and precious resources for children to draw on–and that is self-esteem.

We are firm believers in the power of mentoring at the Corporation for National and Community Service. The Corporation was founded, after all, to help promote a culture of citizenship and responsibility in this country – by supporting volunteering and community service. We’ve found that mentoring, perhaps more than any other single act of volunteering, can bring great satisfaction and rewards to both the recipient and provider of service and to whole communities. Indeed, we commit almost $100 million every year to various kinds of mentoring. And I should clarify that the Corporation doesn’t actually do the mentoring – we provide resources to other organizations through our AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and Learn and Serve America programs. It’s the seed money that helps grow programs in communities all over this country, including the full spectrum of mentoring activities.

We’ve had a good look at that full spectrum here on stage today. I think people are most familiar with what I would call embedded or informal mentoring–the kind of guidance Bill Ripken provides. Thanks to Bill, hundreds of thousands of young people are learning an unforgettable lesson about baseball — and about life. Through his youth camps and clinics and the Cal Ripken, Sr Foundation, Bill is helping to teach these children that strength of character is always a winning strategy. Thank you so much, Bill, for all your work and for joining us today.

Wilson Goode represents the other end of the mentoring continuum, where we find young people who are most in need of a mentor and least likely to find one informally. There’s a well-established infrastructure in place today to help meet this need. In fact, the Amachi program is part of a broader movement, Big Brothers Big Sisters, which is the single largest mentoring organization in the country today. The Corporation for National and Community Service is proud to be a partner of Big Brothers Big Sisters — and we are grateful to have the opportunity to support the Amachi program and Reverend Goode.

And while these programs are certainly worth celebrating, we need Mary Dandy to really make it all work. It is her will to make change and her faith in a better future that ultimately makes mentoring such a successful tool. So I want to thank her for sharing her story and for her personal commitment.

The fact is, however, that the demand for good mentors far outweighs the supply. Somewhere between 15 and 18 million at-risk youth need mentors today – and there are simply not enough qualified, trained individuals in the pipeline to meet even a fraction of this need. As we look ahead to the future, I see three important priorities for growing this field: we need to build public support; sustain existing programs; and grow in new directions.

Given that most people have some experience with a mentor, we should be able to capture the public imagination to build support. There are thousands of mentoring programs all over the country, in schools and community centers; in churches, temples, and mosques — and they all need to be telling their stories. I want to salute the pioneering work in this area of the Harvard Mentoring Project, in collaboration with the National Mentoring Partnership. In addition to starting and supporting National Mentoring Month and Thank Your Mentor Day, they have launched a campaign that’s getting wide play, around the country. In public service announcements, we are learning that Quincy Jones found a mentor in Ray Charles, who in turn, credits his next door neighbor with nurturing his love of music. And a new PSA targets the baby boom generation, with the ultimate boomer, former President Bill Clinton, reminding us all that retirement can be a time of opportunity. That’s an important message for baby boomers to hear, given the demographic challenge that generation – my generation — represents.

This broad support can help strengthen the programs that reach the most vulnerable young people. That includes Big Brothers Big Sisters and the National Mentoring Partnership, but also youth-serving organizations, such as Boys and Girls Clubs and 4-H. These programs are highly effective, but they are also costly. Sustainability is a concern. Everyone in this field has to be far more aggressive about building partnerships with the private sector, looking for state support, and reaching out to faith-based institutions. In turn, these institutions should be looking at doing more mentoring. The private sector, for example, has a role to play here that goes beyond providing funds. Companies should be looking for community organizations and schools to support – and more to the point, they should be encouraging and helping their own employees to volunteer. Good corporate citizenship makes sense – it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s even the right thing to do for the bottom line.

We can also find greater efficiencies in the mentoring programs themselves. It takes a lot of infrastructure to recruit, train, and manage good mentors for these programs; Collaboration in this area would help save costs and spread best practices. For example, the National Network of Youth Ministries adopted a strategy of recruiting Mentor Ambassadors, whose job it is to recruit in turn, five mentors. And the 1990 founding of the MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership was a landmark, in that regard. Some 3,000 grassroots organizations have joined this partnership, which helps instill quality standards and cooperation throughout the field.

The Federal government could certainly streamline its operations, as well. In 2002, the White House Task Force on Disadvantaged Youth found that there are more than 120 different federal programs supporting a wide range of mentoring activities. This is a substantial investment, but the Task Force also found that there was very little collaboration among these programs.

That is going to change. I am delighted to announce today the formation of a new federal mentoring council, made up of the Departments of Education, Labor, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development, and others. The Corporation for National and Community Service in honored to chair and develop the role this council will play.

We had a very good first meeting last week. There is some great leadership involved, including Bob Flores and his OJJDP staff, and there are exciting programs and new products to share, such as the Mentor Recruitment Resource Tool Kit –a joint effort between the Justice Department and the National Network of Youth Ministries – which you can find it at

At the same time, we know that each agency supports mentoring for a different reason – to raise academic achievement, for example, or help adjudicated youth, or build job skills, but these goals are not necessarily mutually exclusive. We will be looking for ways to join forces.

Given, however, the scale of the needs for mentoring, we also need to be prepared to think out of the box. There’s a huge middle ground to be explored, for example, between informal mentoring and one-on-one mentoring. And while group mentoring or internet-based e-mentoring may not have the sky-high rates of success of one on one mentoring, we have the potential to reach millions more children, whose only other choice is to sit on a waiting list. Targeted recruiting, of baby boomers, for example, also makes sense.

An important growing trend in this regard is school-based mentoring. We’re able to reach far more kids this way, in a safe and controlled environment, and at a far lower cost per mentoring pair. For example, starting with a grant from the Corporation’s Learn and Serve America;

Big Brothers Big Sisters has engaged directly in service learning in schools. And I can tell you that what Mary Dandy had to say is borne out in statistics: we recently surveyed principals and school officials about our Foster Grandparents program, and close to 90 percent said they saw improvements in the self esteem and academic performance of children and youth in the program. 77 percent said that Foster Grandparents had helped children who had been involved in the juvenile justice system to stay out of trouble. Given the scale of the needs out there, this is exactly the kind of opportunity we need to be looking for.

Consider, for example, that the First Lady of Television, Oprah Winfrey, said that one of the defining moments in her life came in fourth grade when she found a muse in her teacher, Mrs. Duncan. “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the higher part of yourself when sometimes it becomes hidden to your own view,” she said of Mrs. Duncan. “I don’t think anybody makes it in the world without some form of mentorship. And we are all mentors to people, even when we don’t know it.”

For all of you here today who already act as mentors or who work with mentoring programs, and to those of you who are mentors and just don’t know it — thank you so much for all you do to help young people make it in the world. I hope you will all send a card to someone special on January 25th, and I hope you will find more ways to tap into the power of mentoring as you work to help America’s youth. Thank you very much.


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