Mentoring is having a moment. The annual celebration of National Mentoring Month in January comes on the heels of legislation passed by Congress in December that increased funding to the Youth Mentoring Grant program by $3 million, from $97 million to $100 million. The Youth Mentoring Grant, which is the only federal grant specific to mentoring, is generally used to support direct mentoring services provided to historically underserved youth by organizations with a national or multi-state presence, or that serve specific youth groups.
In recent years, recipients of the Youth Mentoring Grant have focused on different disenfranchised populations, such as those who are involved in the juvenile justice system or are likely to be involved; reside in areas with high rates of community violence; are children of incarcerated parents; have disabilities; have opioid/substance abuse problems; are foster youth; or live in rural communities. Grant recipients can provide one-on-one, group or peer mentoring, in schools, community-based programs or other settings. The grant is administered by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention within the federal Department of Justice.
Over the past 10 years, funding for the Youth Mentoring Grant has hovered between approximately $78 million and $100 million. However, while the Federal Fiscal Year 2021 budget represents the fourth year in a row the Youth Mentoring Grant has seen a year-over-year increase in appropriations, the most recent funding level of $100 million falls short of the $120 million requested by MENTOR National and its partners.
Investment in mentoring pays off; research shows that for every dollar invested in youth intervention programs like quality mentoring, there is a return of at least three dollars. Now more than ever, as youth across the nation – particularly those at risk or underserved – struggle in the pandemic to connect with teachers, counselors and supportive adults who can guide them on the path to college and career, it is imperative that lawmakers continue to prioritize mentoring funding.
This winter, the federal appropriations process will kick off anew, as President Biden releases his first federal budget recommendations for FY2022. It’s important that congressional appropriators hear from constituents as they set their own funding priorities over the coming year. You can thank lawmakers for their past support of the Youth Mentoring Grant and ask them to continue the investment, or join the mentoring movement with ASA and MENTOR. Together, let’s advocate for progress and systemic change that will help ensure today’s youth have the supportive network and social capital needed to prepare for and thrive in tomorrow’s world of work.