Importance of youth mentorship | Guest column

  • Sun Feb 9th, 2020 1:30am
  • Life

Submitted by Delphina Liles, Youth Mentorship and Enrichment Coordinator

Hello San Juan Island! My name is Delphina Liles and I’m the new Youth Mentorship and Enrichment Coordinator with the San Juan Island Family Resource Center. I moved to the island in 2016, originally working with Senior Services. My career in social work has focused on serving youth through access to housing, nutrition and gardening education, life skill development, and future planning. Within the scope of my work, I realized that I wanted to offer communities tangible tools for wellness so I have trained in wilderness education, yoga and mindfulness, and Functional Nutritional Therapy. This kind of work ignites me and I’m excited to put my skills to use in Friday Harbor! So let’s learn together about some of the ways we can support youth in our community.

We often hear the saying that “it takes a village to raise a child”. Yet, many children don’t have the support they need to grow into resilient adults. That’s why mentoring a youth is a commitment that offers a life-changing impact. Youth with mentors have an increased likelihood of going to college or post-secondary vocational training, better attitudes toward school, increased social and emotional development, and improved self-esteem. So ask yourself, could I give back as a mentor, knowing that I could be the factor that changes that child’s life?

The SJI Youth Mentoring Program was founded twenty years ago by Joyce Sobel in an effort to match island youth with an adult mentor to create a one on one relationship that would foster resilience in the face of adversity. Today the program has twenty mentor and mentee matches, some of whom have been working together for several years. Youth are referred to the program through their school and matched with a mentor who shares their interests. Mentors agree to meet their mentees one hour per week for at least one year. Additionally, the program hosts annual events to bring mentors, mentees, and their families together.

Jennifer Armstrong, Executive Director of the Family Resource Center, emphasizes that “Each mentor-mentee match is an evolving relationship, where both people are accepting who the other is. Some mentors help kids for a year during a critical time in that kid’s life, other matches become family and it’s a lifelong relationship.”

Yet, according to the Youth Leadership Council, “despite the importance of mentorship for youth, one in three young people report never having an adult mentor while growing up”. Our island is no exception as the program currently has four children waiting for a mentor. Jennifer shares her hope that over the next year “if a child has the courage to say they need a mentor, then we can step up right away to connect them with one”.

Beyond their elementary and middle school years, students’ mentorship needs change so this year marks the pilot of a College Mentoring Program, where adults can get involved and commit to supporting students that are the first from their families to attend and graduate college. Mentors help students navigate the paperwork trail, introduce them to cultural activities on and off-island, and are there to support students in their first year of college. This part of the program plans to give students the foundation they need to launch into successful adulthood.

Sound like something you’d like to get involved in? There are a number of ways to give back to support these programs. Become a mentor, donate monetarily, volunteer at events, or offer a skill set that would benefit program growth! If interested, please reach out to the Family Resource Center at 360-378-5246 or contact me directly at