Arbor on Main Mentoring Program

Idea Leader:
Natalie Davis

Location: Ukiah, CA

Partner Organization: Redwood Children's Services, Inc. 

Project Summary: In response to Ukiah High School dropout rate of 45 percent, Natalie Davis, 16, developed a three tier mentoring program with Redwood Children’s Services. The three unique approaches to youth support are Business to Youth, Peer to Peer, and Adult to Youth.

Mentoring for High School Youth Emerges in Ukiah, CA

Natalie Davis noticed the trend of classmates slowly disappearing every year. Why were her peers dropping out of high school? In 2009, Ukiah High School had a 45 percent dropout rate according to the California Department of Education.  As Natalie recognized this upsetting trend, she was compelled to start a movement. She was able to see that not all of her classmates had a supportive adult in their lives like she did, not every student had friends on campus, many of her peers were deficient in basic interpersonal and life skills; but, most of all, she noticed an overall lack of self-esteem among her peers. 

She did find several programs available in the community that focused on young children, the elderly or at-risk youth involved with the justice or social service systems. Unfortunately, very little support was provided for young adults needing enrichment and positive conversation. 

Natalie was determined to find a way to offer more support to her peers in the area -- a marijuana-saturated community that is suffocated by poverty and few healthy activities for youth. With motivation and sadness driving her mission to keep her peers in class, she partnered with the Arbor on Main when she was a high school intern to help them create and implement their mentoring program specifically for high school students.

And so it began…

  • $20,000 from AT&T America’s Promise Alliance My Idea Grant
  • three tiers of mentoring
  • 25 partnering community organizations
  • surveys
  • interviews
  • paperwork
  • public events
  • sleepless nights

Thus, mentoring for high school youth emerged in the Greater Ukiah area!

The Arbor on Main, Ukiah High School, and Redwood Children’s Services knew there had to be a creative approach in implementing a mentoring program for high school students.  The program had to address valuable relationships to which all high school students could relate.  A 3-tiered program was developed:  business-to-youth, peer-to-peer, and adult-to-youth.  Approaching mentoring from these three key areas would help in the prevention of teen pregnancy, homelessness, violence, gang activity, and drug and alcohol use, and would provide youth with direction and support as they near the beginning of their adult lives.

Business – to – Youth:  Youth Employment Support Services (YESS Program)

For many adults, figuring out what to be “when they grow up” takes years. Sometimes, that is due to indecisiveness, but in other cases it is lack of training and exploration, or simply an absence of resources and support. The Business-to-Youth tier of the mentoring program is designed to address just that. It has vocationally focused support and resources to explore.

High school students participate in group and one-on-one settings where they receive hands-on experience in resume writing, career investigation, guest speakers, job shadow trips, and on-the-job experience as they determine the fundamentals of finding employment. The YESS program takes place two days every other week for two hours, for 21 weeks. At the end of the 21 weeks, participants leave the program with a professional portfolio that includes personal resumes, cover letters, interview skill quick tips, appropriate professional dress guides, telephone etiquette scripts, and strategies to accurately count change back to a customer. From banking to farming, students have been able to experience vocations and careers at their fingertips with positive adults, peers and appropriate resources. Twenty high school students have completed the program with over 25 percent of them planning to return next year for additional exploration and support as they enter the workforce, and 25 percent now hold a steady job.

Peer – to – Peer:  Every Peer Ignites Community Mentoring (E.P.I.C.)

Remember when you were in high school? Did you want to talk to your mom or dad about your first girlfriend or boyfriend? What about sex? Not Likely. Life is not all that different to today’s high school students.  Friendships can be the most valuable relationship to a high school student.  It is in this relationship where trust, self-exploration, self-esteem and camaraderie ignite.

In many cases, high school students are faced with incredible social pressures and problems that breed fear and insecurity, like boyfriends and girlfriends, bullies, sex, sexuality, and socioeconomic status. Ultimately, these pressures may keep them out of the classroom out of fear of ridicule. The peer-to-peer tier of the mentoring program cultivates positive peer relationships and helps create a larger sense of community on campus. 

Ukiah High School has been collaborating with the Arbor on Main to create a buddy-system mentoring program for students. With an on-campus “buddy” that is an upperclassman who knows his or her way around campus, lowerclassmen can feel at ease if the daily stresses of high school become a burden. Thanks to 65 leadership students, there was an increased awareness of the program among the student body and a sensible launch date was decided. 

Adult – to – Youth:

Finally, the Adult-to-youth tier showcases the value of a healthy relationship with an adult. This has been the most challenging to implement. It is in this tier where background checks, personal interviews, and a training process needs to be developed and highly detailed in order to ensure an effective and successful program. The fiscal agent of the Arbor on Main, Redwood Children’s Services, has provided expertise in these areas and has been significant help in the upcoming launch of the program. In addition, the local Big Brothers, Big Sisters and the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Mendocino County have provided their own form of mentoring to this groups as it continues to perfect paperwork and interview strategies.

In this economic time, it has also been difficult to recruit adult volunteers, as most people need to work for pay.  However, the pool of both mentors and protégés for this program is growing and is supported by the community at large.  We were able to match a few youth with adults and their experience thus far has been highly beneficial.  This alone makes all of the challenges worthwhile. 

Mentoring is a grassroots approach to taking care of our youth, and is the best way to ensure they stay in school and graduate.  Offering mentoring in a multi-layered approach helps fit the needs of the youth, rather than forcing them into a mold.  It is within the vocational, peer, and adult relationships that students begin to feel empowered and take control of their own lives.  In the Greater Ukiah area, we will undoubtedly continue our mission in making mentoring available to high school youth.