The Youth, Family, and Community Sciences graduate program publishes a monthly blog written by students and alumni sharing important topics and helpful resources related to the field of family science. The October blog post, written by Kendra Dowen, highlights the importance of mentoring and using your own networks to help youth increase their own social capital.
Mentoring has been a social phenomenon since the 1970s, attracting more and more attention as the years move on. Community leaders, parents, politicians, youth professionals, educators, and upper management have supported these programs for both formal and informal mentoring opportunities. Mentoring has also been used as an early-intervention technique to help low-income youth overcome obstacles in their life due to a lack of financial resources. Research has suggested that adolescents from lower-income families and/or communities have less access to mentors during periods of critical development. Not only does this population of youth have less access to mentors, but they also lack the same access to social capital and resources that middle-class youth have. So, how do we fix this? By mobilizing our social capital.
Mobilized social capital… What is it? How can we help the youth in our lives gain it? Mobilized social capital is best explained in this YouTube video. It is the idea that our relationships with people (resources) in our lives can be utilized to benefit the youth we are mentoring – giving them access to our network of people and increasing their social capital.
Some personal examples from my mentoring experiences are:
- Student 1, a sophomore enrolled in continuation school (alternative school) expressed an interest in learning to tattoo – while I do not know any local tattoo artists personally, I shared this information with a friend who was born/raised and currently lives in the area. This friend reached out to a friend who owns a tattoo shop in the area and told me that when the student turns 16 we can connect him with the tattoo shop owner to get him a paid job cleaning up around the shop and learning about the industry.
- Student 2, a high school senior living in a low-income community, has a desire to break into the cannabis industry upon graduation from High School. Again, I have no relationship to the industry in the area, but shared this information with another friend who I know has connections. Because of my relationship with my friend, upon graduation, Student 2 has guaranteed work on a hemp farm to gain experience and money to help pay for his cannabis classes at a private trade program in Northern California.
Despite not having the connections myself, I can fall back on my circle to assist me in mentoring low-income youth and giving them access to resources that their middle and upper-class peers have due to their parents and community.
The same principle works when mobilizing social capital to help with college.
- I had four students I was mentoring who needed to complete the FAFSA for school in January. I am not knowledgeable about the process or application; however, I have friends who work in financial aid. With a phone call, I now have a professional coming to run a short workshop and help these youth/their parents fill out the FAFSA.
Leveling the playing field for low-income youth is critical and something we, as mentors and youth professionals, can easily do by utilizing our circle and reaching out to those who have taken an interest in our work with youth when resources are needed. There is no shame in asking for favors. If we don’t advocate for these youth, who will?
I challenge you, in the next seven days, mobilize your social capital for the development and success of the youth. You won’t regret it!