Mentoring Program for Native American Youth Planned at Grand Valley State University

Students and faculty at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in Allendale, Mich., are preparing to translate a successful mentoring program into one focused on Native American youth in the surrounding Grand Rapids area. The Native American Advisory Board (NAAB) at GVSU held a meeting last week to spread the word about the new initiative for Native youth.

The new program will be based on GVSU’s Pals Student Mentors program, which has been offered to local school children for the last 10 years. Pals recruits GVSU students from a wide range of majors and backgrounds to serve as mentors for K-12 students, but this fall will be the first time Pals will specify the Native American mentor-mentee relationship.

Beginning this summer, Native American students at the university will be recruited to serve as mentors to Native youth between the ages of 5 and 16. After undergoing a screening and interview process, mentors will receive training and be paired with Native American children with similar interests. The matching process is essential to the initiative’s success.

“Instead of just school-based mentoring programs focusing on academic success, we focus on building relationships as a whole,” Jessica MacVane, a GVSU graduate adviser working on the program, told the Grand Valley Lanthorn. “We find that if we build those relationships, the kids are going to do better in school, and they’ll do better socially and emotionally in all different areas.”

In fact, research confirms the benefits of mentoring on youth. Children with mentors are more likely to stay in school and graduate, have higher self-esteem, and be better prepared to enter the workforce as adults. They are also less likely to use illegal drugs and skip school.

Pals mentors are required to spend a minimum of four hours a week with their mentees. Hours can be met through community-based extracurricular activities like craft projects and trips to the park or through tutoring. Most mentors exceed the minimum required hours, and last year, Pals mentors volunteered 3,434 hours with 161 children.