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Mentors Must be Equipped to Connect

Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend

It’s not a secret. No one achieves success alone.

Even the most successful CEOs, business leaders, entertainers and athletes have mentors and strong networks of support that can be remarkably powerful tools. These essential relationships also make an incredible difference in the lives of young people, but too often, a lack of access to caring adults is a challenge that comes with real consequences.

That is exactly what young people working to stay in or return to school said in a new report, Don’t Quit On Me: What Young People Who Have Left School Say About the Power of Relationships, from America’s Promise Alliance.

Too many young people are facing multiple hurdles that make staying in and finishing high school a maze that is too often too difficult to complete by themselves. But committed and diverse relationships with adults and peers have a significant impact on educational success.

The research shows students are 20% less likely to leave school when they have relationships with adults that provide both emotional support and instrumental support, such as a bus pass, childcare or help obtaining a part-time job.

One adult can be the gateway to a network of support. Young people who have faced multiple hurdles and many disappointments said that a strong, trusting and committed relationship can be the key that opens the door to seeing and trusting a wider network of caring adults and critical resources.

For many young people who face greater levels of adversity, a network of support from adults and peers is important, but it is often still not enough. Don’t Quit On Me found that, for young people with five or more adverse life experiences, there is still less than a 50% chance of continuous enrollment in school, even with high support from multiple sources.

This data point is a call to action: We have to ensure that mentors in our schools and neighborhoods are equipped to connect vulnerable youth to crucial resources, such as help resolving trauma, securing housing, or ending food insecurity.

Overall, this new report shows the important challenge to high school completion that comes from relationship poverty. John Gomperts, President and CEO of American’s Promise Alliance, defines this as “…not a lack of love or family, but a lack of access to additional sources of support that can lead to a more promising future.”

Don’t Quit On Me shines a light on an essential factor in high school support and re-engagement that can be implemented at the grass-roots level in communities and brought to scale by practitioners, schools and local leaders.

In Philadelphia, we have seen the impact that comes from building a network of support to leverage resources, build solutions, and truly move the needle on high school graduation. The Philadelphia Youth Network serves as the backbone of Project U-Turn, a citywide campaign to understand, focus public attention on and, most importantly, resolve Philadelphia's dropout crisis through the use of a collective impact strategy.

The research makes it clear: we can help more young people graduate on time by equipping communities, schools, and individuals to build the necessary networks of support our young people need and deserve.

Be the committed, caring adult who makes a difference in the life of a young person. Be equipped to connect.


Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend is the president and CEO of the Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN). With a commitment to increasing young people's access to life-changing opportunities, she joined the PYN in 2005. As President and CEO, Chekemma is charged with overseeing the organization's vision, mission, and overall direction.