The chances of Laura and Marie meeting were unlikely, if not improbable. Marie emigrated to the U.S. from Haiti when she was 12 and lives in an under-resourced community in Brooklyn, while Laura is a busy business professional. But iMentor brought them together. Based in New York, iMentor connects adults like Laura with students like Marie to bridge the divide between the city's under-resourced communities and its wealth of professional talent. The goal? To equip students with the skills and resources critical for personal, academic, and career success.
During Marie's senior year of high school, Laura served as her mentor, helping her prepare cover letters, resumes, and competitive college applications over email and at iMentor drop-in centers. Marie and Laura also worked together to revise Marie's essay for the Seinfeld Scholarship Program, which awards 15 New York City students with full scholarships to the college of their choice. Marie won the scholarship and is now attending Long Island University.
When asked about a moment that changed her life, Marie said, "The first Tuesday of October 2008 is a time I will never forget. This was when I met [Laura]. I was very happy to have someone to help me with my school work and I really appreciated it." She and Laura continue to stay in touch.
An Approach that Defies the Seemingly Impossible
Since its inception in 1999, iMentor has proven that even the busiest, most successful New Yorkers have time to be quality mentors, and that formal mentoring programs can flourish in NYC's most isolated, low-income, and underserved communities. To date the organization has provided mentors to more than 7,000 youth from more than 30 New York City Schools and youth organizations. Although more than 80 percent of iMentor's participants live below the poverty line and 30 percent have lived in the U.S. for four years or less, 92 percent of students in the iMentor program graduate from high school, compared with a citywide average of 55.8 percent. What's more is that a remarkable 77 percent go on to college. According to Min Zhao, a teacher in the Lower East Side, "iMentor is a bridge to bring [my students] out of their small, limited world to have them see beyond. . . it helps them see the possibilities."
iMentor works by partnering with NYC schools and enrolling whole class cohorts (all Freshman) into the program. Each student is matched one-to-one with a mentor and the pair remains together through high school graduation. iMentor facilitates meaningful interactions. Mentor-mentee pairs build their relationship through weekly, curriculum-structured, email communication and monthly in person meetings at iMentor events. Both the email curriculum and the iMentor events are strategically designed to help the pairs develop high-quality relationships. The program also provides participating students with skill-building opportunities that include monthly workshops, access to an Online Youth Resource Database, and quarterly guest speaking panel discussions that capitalize on the experiences of iMentor's vast mentor pool. Through iMentor's approach and innovative use of technology, the program is tapping into a pool of previously inaccessible mentors and connecting them with New York City youth living in communities that traditional mentoring programs cannot reach.
Expanding Mentoring Opportunities with Technology
As iMentor looks toward the future, the organization's CEO Mike O'Brien has created iMentor Interactive, an online platform designed to provide any nonprofit or school with the tools and resources necessary to run a high-impact mentoring program. The iMentor Interactive offering provides: online applications, automated "best-match" matching, secure email with integrated curriculum, a resource database for mentors and mentees, tools for monitoring and tracking email communication, individual profiles for all participants, online calendars and event tracking, and a customizable survey tool. iMentor Interactive seeks to drive a national mentoring movement by facilitating high-quality mentoring programs in America's most isolated and under-resourced communities and schools. By focusing mentoring programs on the most critical challenges facing underserved youth, iMentor hopes to play a signature role in increasing the impact of organizations working to close the achievement gap across the country.