"My mentor came into my life and provided structure," one young adult recalled. "He took me out to play ball, just sat and talked with me, and kept me from doing other things, like being in the streets."
This recollection was part of a survey commissioned by Mentor, a national advocacy group that polled more than 1,100 young people nationwide and released its results in January.
Youth who had mentors showed significant positive outcomes in the areas of academics, community involvement, leadership and career development, the report said.
The youth, ages 18-21, were asked about the presence of a mentor earlier in their lives, either in a formal mentoring relationship or in an informal relationship, such as a teacher or family friend. Survey respondents were also categorized either as at-risk or not.
It was a departure from earlier research.
“We had never asked young people about their perspectives on mentoring,” said Kathleen McMahon of Civic Enterprises, a public policy and strategy firm that assisted in the survey. Survey responses confirmed what earlier research had shown, she said, but also showed a big “mentoring gap.”
“One in three young adults did not have a mentor of any kind,” she said.
Among the at-risk youth, 76 percent of those who reported a mentoring relationship said they aspired to graduate from college. Of those without a mentor, only 56 percent had that aspiration.
Formal mentoring relationships were more likely to deal with academics than informal relationships. Young people with formal mentors got help with school issues and homework, they reported.
Sixty-seven percent of at-risk youth who had a mentor said they participated in sports or extracurricular activities. Among those without a mentor, 37 percent participated.
Fifty-one percent with a mentor reported they held a leadership position in a club, sports team, school council or other group. Among at-risk youth without a mentor, 22 percent reported such a leadership position.
Nearly all youth in mentoring relationships called it helpful, and nearly nine in 10 said they would be interested in mentoring a younger person.
But the survey also showed the lack of mentoring relationships. Extrapolating from survey results, McMahon said, 16 million young people will not have a mentor before age 19 -- including 9 million who are considered at-risk.
In addition, four out of five youth who struggle with attendance, behavior and academic performance do not have a formal mentor.
The report is titled "The Mentoring Effect: Young People's Perspectives on the Outcomes and Availability of Mentoring." The survey was carried out by Civic Engagement and Hart Research Associates for Mentoring: The National Mentoring Partnership with financial support from AT&T.