Veterans Strategic Legal Resources, Inc.
Volunteer Mentor Program
The Usefulness of Mentoring:
Imagine that you aspire to sail the Atlantic - solo. You have a new sailboat, charts, a GPS, and endless enthusiasm, however you have never so much as climbed
aboard a sailboat. "There are two ways to get into it." You could take a practice run with somebody who has lots of experience and the willingness to share it. The
other way is to be taken to the docks, dropped off, and told to get underway or quit. If you don't get on board, your enthusiasm disappears, and you seek ways to
avoid similar challenges in the future.
Too often Veterans suffering from substance abuse find themselves alone at the dock with the whole world and its experience before them. Veterans Strategic Legal
Resources, Inc., listens carefully to how disadvantaged Veterans describe their experiences while suffering the mental, physical and spiritual effects of substance
abuse. One, for example, compares the first attempt to "sail across the bay” that is covered in fog. He can't see very far ahead, and he doesn't know how to use
radar. Another describes it as "a journey for which there are no charts to guide him."
Veterans Strategic Legal Resources, Inc., though its Extended Programs Initiative has established a program to assist Veterans in need of remedial aid to build up for
the difficult journeys ahead with the assistance of a guide or mentor. The hope is that in due time the Veteran will be able to chart his own course, know his way
points and navigate the recovery seascape in order to reach his desired destination..
A mentor will help the Veteran make sense of the realities faced in any occupation or profession and use what they have learned to improve their insight into life’s
experiences. Ideally, the Mentor Program helps to ensure that disadvantaged Veterans have access to the accumulated instructional knowledge and expertise of
successful individuals in the community in ways that contribute to the Veteran and the community at large. In this formulation, mentoring is a mechanism to
capitalize on the genius of instruction.
Concerted action must be taken to assist the disadvantaged Veterans who endeavor to enter the work force while sustaining a sober and well adjusted way of life.
While not the entire solution, carefully designed mentoring programs can help in three ways to meet the challenge inherent in pursuing both of these worthy
goals simultaneously: mentoring can be used as a recruitment tool; it can provide insight for the Veteran in a particular field of endeavor and it can help to improve
the skills and knowledge of the Veteran. Mentoring holds the potential to help the Veterans to advance with time, just as the previously mentioned sailors who
learned to conquer challenges that in years past appeared well beyond their reach.
Guidelines for VSLR Mentor Program:
The issues and questions outlined below serve as guidelines for discussion and planning rather than a "how-to" manual. Like a good mentor, they are intended to
prompt reflection in this instance by VSLR about how we currently serve Veterans and how VSLR can ensure that every Veteran is assigned an effective mentor.
Creating the Climate, Context, and Structure for Effective Mentoring
Everybody could agree that mentoring is an important component of professional support. So we chose a topic that we thought was both crucial and one which
we could agree to support. Successful mentoring benefits all stakeholders. For Veterans, VSLR, The Veterans Administration and the community, it helps to ensure
a smooth transition from indecision to purpose it represents a new way to serve Veterans and guarantee instructional quality; it can represent the difference
between success and failure; and, for Veterans and VSLR, it means better services.
Mentoring is not an enterprise for those who prefer to work alone, either as individuals or as an organization. It requires partners. This is the sine qua non, the
essence, of an effective program. From the placement of first-time Veterans, to finding time for mentoring, to strategies to fund programs, to issues of confidentiality,
to the policies that assemble the nuts and bolts of programs, mentoring works well when everyone with a stake in its outcome is fully involved in its planning and
implementation. From the beginning, the VSLR - Mentoring Program has to be progressively structured, formal, and dependent on cooperation.
Time for Mentoring:
Data from the National Center for Education Statistics dramatically demonstrate that the efficacy of mentoring is linked to the amount of time that a mentor and
protégé work together. Only 36 percent of protégés who work with mentors "a few times a year" report substantial improvements to their instructional skills. That
figure jumps to an impressive 88 percent for those who work with mentors at least once a week.
VSLR identifies time as an issue of primary importance for our mentoring programs. VSLR recommends that written agreements be provided to mentors and
Veterans that would include adequate opportunities to observe one another, and discuss instructional strategies and resources. Without that commitment in …
these observation opportunities [are] critical to the success of the mentoring program.
Mentors will maintain a detailed log of everything that is observed and discussed during this time. Other design features that affect this all-important matter of time
include the proximity of mentors to Veterans, the use of e-mail and other technologies to maintain a mentoring dialogue in between face-to-face mentoring
sessions, the ratio of mentors to Veterans. All of these issues require serious discussion by the partners who join the VSLR - Mentoring Program.
The confidentiality of mentoring is another area that is often best governed by clear, carefully crafted policies. The intent of these agreements is to encourage
Veterans to share their inadequacies with a mentor whom they trust. The Veteran needs to be confident that the dialogue they have with their mentor is safe and
secure and that they will get nurturing and supportive feedback from that mentor.
This program requires Veterans to sign an agreement stipulating that they will participate fully in mentoring activities. "Veterans cannot be intimidated," "They
need to be willing to ask questions." Asking questions - asking the right questions - is the first step in reflecting on and establishing the context, climate, and
structure of the VSLR-mentoring effort. The list below will be used to initiate a dialogue among ourselves, the disadvantaged Veterans and potential mentors.
Key Questions to Consider:
• What policies and practices are barriers to Veteran mentoring and how can these be overcome?
• What partners should be involved in the creation of the mentoring program and how?
- The Veterans Administration;
- Veterans Services Organization;
- Associations & Organizations;
- Private Corporation;
- Local Government;
- Collages & Universities;
- Other Veterans;
• Do we need a formal, written governing agreement for our mentoring program?
- Who should be the parties to this agreement?
• Who will be involved in providing ongoing direction for the mentoring program?
• Which Veterans will receive mentoring?
• Will participation in the mentoring program is voluntary?
• How long will a Veteran participate in a mentoring program?
• How frequently should mentoring activities occur?
• What is the best way to provide time for mentoring?
• Will our Veteran have duties & assignments?
• How long will mentors serve?
• What is our target mentor-Veteran ratio?
• How will we ensure that the Veteran-mentor relationship remains confidential?
• What operational changes need to be made to make mentoring possible?
Do mentors and Veterans have ready access to email and telephones?
Is there a transportation Issue?
How will VSLR Resources be used?
• How will our partners prepare to give and receive Veterans?
• How will retired Veterans become involved in the program?
Selecting, Training, and Supporting Mentors
Criteria for Selecting Mentors:
In the VSLR Mentoring Program, we can have specified structure while being informal in our approach. As we identify the characteristics of effective mentors.
VSLR will recruit a pool of individuals who meet these standards, and will establish an optimal set of priorities for matching mentors with Veterans. In describing
the ideal mentor, VSLR will have in mind a highly skilled teacher (or someone with close connections to the classroom) who has earned the esteem of colleagues
and who possesses the confidence and “presence” to offer counsel to other adults. A mentor needs to offer criticism and critiques in positive and productive ways.
The mentoring relationship needs to be a skillful sharing of views. Effective mentors exercise diplomacy in mutually respectful relationships and model a devotion
to their profession.
Good mentors also demonstrate a variety of skills and knowledge that come with experience: "knowing the ropes" for example, and understanding the complexities
involved in the substance abuse recovery process, as well as having access to a network of instructional resources. Other attributes are less a function of years on
the job and more a matter of especially good “people skills”. Having someone who knows how to express care for your emotional, professional, and other needs
can make all the difference. The qualities of effective mentors as identified by VSLR may be organized into four general categories: attitude and character;
professional competence and experience; communication skills; and, interpersonal skills. Together with a willingness to serve our Veterans and a vote of confidence
by colleagues, these characteristics comprise guidelines for selecting VSLR mentors.
Attitude and Character:
- Willing to be a role model for Veterans;
- Exhibits strong commitment to teaching;
- Believes mentoring improves instructional practice;
- Willing to receive training to improve mentoring skills;
- Demonstrates a commitment to lifelong learning;
- Is reflective and able to learn from mistakes;
- Is eager to share information and ideas with VSLR;
- Is resilient, flexible, persistent, and open-minded;
- Exhibits good humor and resourcefulness;
- Enjoys new challenges and solving problems;
- Is able to articulate effective instructional strategies;
- Listens attentively;
- Asks questions that prompt reflection and understanding;
- Offers critiques in positive and productive ways;
- Uses email effectively;
- Is efficient with the use of time;
- Conveys enthusiasm, passion for mentoring;
- Is discreet and maintains confidentiality;
Professional Competence and Experience:
- Is regarded by colleagues as an outstanding professional;
- Has excellent knowledge of profession and subject matter;
- Has confidence in his/her own instructional skills;
- Demonstrates excellent management skills;
- Feels comfortable being observed by others;
- Maintains a network of professional contacts;
- Understands the policies and procedures of the organization;
- Is a meticulous observer of mentoring practice;
- Collaborates well with others and administrators;
- Is willing to learn new teaching strategies from VSLR;
- Is able to maintain a trusting professional relationship;
- Knows how to express care for a Veteran’s emotional and professional needs;
- Is attentive to sensitive political issues;
- Works well with individuals from different cultures;
- Is approachable; easily establishes rapport with others and is patient.
The demands of mentoring and the desire to attract the services of the very best candidates highlight the importance of incentives. Like other professionals, mentors
and protégés prefer to work under conditions that lead to success. Mentoring achieves less when it is relegated to after hours and weekends. Having an important
role in the governance of our mentoring program may be equally attractive for would-be mentors seeking to exercise their leadership talents while remaining very
much within the profession.
The issue of incentive for mentors warrants caution. Stipends can engender skepticism among funding agencies as well as professional jealousy. How we ask for
funding, how we craft our request from a policy perspective is key. Teachers and school administrators involved in successful mentoring programs emphasize that
training for mentors must be ongoing. Some programs provide mentors with ready access to organizational services. Others provide mentors with common office
space, which allows them to meet with each other on a regular basis, discuss coaching strategies, share organizational resources, and plan additional ways to assist
There are no easy solutions to this challenge. Like all aspects of a quality mentoring program, VSLR will supports its mentors requirements while taking into
consideration the systemic changes that affect the Veteran climate, conventional definitions of the job of mentoring. It is important to keep these contextual factors
in mind when answering the following guiding questions.
Key Questions to Consider:
• What criteria will be used to select mentors?
- Who will help to define these criteria?
• Who will be involved in choosing mentors?
- What incentives will attract the best candidates to serve as mentors?
- How will mentors be matched to Veterans?
- One-to-one matching?
- A "mentoring mosaic"?
- Who will coordinate the matching?
• How will mentors be trained?
- When will the training take place?
- Who will plan and provide the training?
- Will mentors be required to participate in the training?
- What will be the focus of the training?
- Will higher education institutions assist with mentor training?
• What resources and expertise will be made available to mentors?
- Office space?
- Ready access to laptop computers and other equipment?
- Other resources?
What Veterans Need from Mentors:
Not surprisingly, what a Veteran needs most from a mentor varies significantly over time and will differ from Veteran to Veteran. As with other aspects of a good
mentoring program, the content of the mentoring experience is shaped by the broader context of the profession and community setting. Ideally, mentoring is but
one component of a more comprehensive assistance strategy for VSLR. A VSLR resources department, a resource-based instructional team, or both might be
available to provide Veterans with training and assistance pertaining to academic content, curriculum development, and Veteran assessments. An effective mentor
will collaborate in this process (and can serve as an advocate for the Veteran) although he should not be held solely accountable for ensuring that the Veteran have
a full understanding of a profession or our resource program. This obligation must be shared more broadly by the entire VSLR program and staff. A mentor
connects Veterans to the resources available within VSLR, the profession, and the community.
Our use of mentoring is also shaped by the specific needs of the Veteran population, their families, and the community-at-large. This can be especially important if
Veterans are unfamiliar with the culture and traditions of the community. Mentors, for example, help Veterans understand that certain rites of passage – instituted
into certain trades and professions. This level of assistance can make the difference between success and failure for a Veteran. Certainly it affects the quality of
learning. Such cultural differences are present in many forms in schools, the trades, all professions and communities across the country. The VSLR mentoring
programs will address these issues in a substantive and rigorous way.
Measuring the Effectiveness of Mentoring:
The quality of learning is the bottom line for evaluating a mentoring program. Research still tells us too little about the direct connection between mentoring and
achievement. Our local college or university partners might be particularly helpful in the complex task of documenting this link. At the program level, evaluation
and careful documentation help both to improve the effectiveness of mentoring and to justify our investment. "Always keep statistics.”
Key Questions to Consider:
• How we determine what a Veteran needs most from the mentoring experience?
- Who will be involved in making this determination?
• How will VSLR and its partners individualize the mentoring experience to meet the specific needs of each Veteran?
• How will the focus of mentoring change during the course of a Veteran’s involvement in the program?
- Will the mentoring program be divided into stages according to the evolving needs of the Veteran?
• Will the mentoring program provide remedial assistance to a mentor experiencing difficulties?
• Will the mentoring program include VSLR review?
• How will mentors interact with others in the program and with representatives of partnering organizations to ensure that Veterans have access to
comprehensive professional development opportunities, including assistance with content and program assessments?
• How will mentors be assessed for their performance?
- Who will be involved in making this assessment?
• What evidence will be used to evaluate and document the effectiveness of the program?
- Veteran achievement data?
- Indicators of Veteran satisfaction?
- Mentor retention data?
- Decreased need for remediation?
- Cost-benefit data?
- Anecdotal evidence?
- Other indicators?
• Who should be involved in evaluating and documenting the mentoring program?
- An independent program evaluator?
- Probation Officers?
- Substance Abuse Counselors?
Conclusion: Advancing the Disadvantaged Veteran:
The payoff of mentoring accumulates with time. Each year may show only modest gains, especially during the start-up phase of the VSLR – Mentor Program. The
benefits of mentoring, however, become more obvious as the years pass. Years ago we crossed the Atlantic by celestial satellite, today a man made satellites directs
our journey. So it should be with today's most difficult challenges.
"As long as anyone believes that his ideal and purpose is outside him, that it is above the clouds, in the past or in the future, he will go outside himself and
seek fulfillment where it cannot be found. He will look for solutions and answers at every point except where they can be found-in himself".
IN ACCORDANCE WITH OUR MANDATE, VSLR WILL CONTRIBUTE TO THE FOLLOWING UNMET NEEDS. (Data from the CHALENG survey)
1. Legal services #4
2. Job training #5
3. Help with transportation #6
4. Education #7
5. Help with finding a job or employment #10
6. Halfway house or transitional living facility #13
7. Help managing money #17
8. Spiritual (organizational Chaplain) #20
9. Help getting needed documents or identification #23
10. SSI/SSD process #24
11. Personal hygiene #33
12. Clothing #34
13. Food #35
While assisting the Veteran in obtaining those issues we cannot directly contribute too?