Mentoring has always been a powerful tool for personal and professional growth—but what if we let young people shape their own mentorship paths? That's the goal of iCouldBe, a nonprofit dedicated to building student support networks through e-mentoring. The organization is empowering mentees at every stage of the mentoring process, from program creation to curriculum, with the development of its first Youth Advisory Board. We sat down with Executive Director Kate Schrauth to get her tips on how programs can embark on this transformative journey.
Embrace the Potential of Youth Input iCouldBe's path toward establishing a Youth Advisory Board began during the pandemic. As they consulted with over 100 (traditionally in-person) mentoring programs across the country, a common concern emerged—virtual school fatigue was hindering youth participation in e-mentoring. Strikingly, at the same time, online social and gaming platforms were thriving.
According to a report by Common Sense Media, between 2015 and 2019, media consumption among tweens increased by 3%, while teens saw an uptick of 11%. However, from 2019 to 2021, both groups saw a remarkable surge of 17%. This growth over just two years outpaced the increase observed in the four years leading up to the pandemic. If young people weren’t shying away from screen time, Kate noted, why were some programs seeing a decline in youth engagement? “Isn't the burden on people delivering youth-serving programs to create the spaces where young people want to be, that really resonate with them, that really work for them?”, Kate says. It's a theme echoed by MENTOR New York CEO Brenda Jimenez, who emphasizes the need for programs to adapt to the evolving preferences, behaviors, and digital interactions of their mentees.
"Sometimes the most powerful thing an adult can do is embrace the new ways young people interact with the world, and combine them with the wisdom of their experience to elevate their thinking, learning, and imagination," Brenda says. "We're observing a trend where programs that can't hear the voices and needs of young people and respond accordingly, lose touch with the youth they serve." Commit to Your Initiative Recognizing the wealth of insights and innovative ideas young people bring to table—from user interface design to gamified approaches to programming—iCouldBe “put a stake in the ground” and committed to laying the foundation for their first Youth Advisory Board. By listening closely to their mentees, they aim to tailor services to be more relevant, engaging, and inclusive to young people, elevating their programming to new heights.
Stay tuned next week for part two of our series with iCouldBe, where we’ll explore how to prepare your team and adult board members to share power with the next generation.
If you're inspired by iCouldBe's journey and want to explore starting your own youth-led initiative, we’re here to support you. Book a free, 30-minute consultation to learn more.
Kate Schrauth is the Executive Director of iCouldBe. Her most influential mentor was a masterful community organizer who taught Kate how to see and hear the needs of the whole community. Today, Kate helps iCouldBe live its mission to help thousands of teens reach their true potential—engaging the many mentors, schools, companies, and supporters who make mentoring possible.