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. Read part one of our series with iCouldBe here.
1. Ground Your Team Before involving young people, iCouldBe prioritized preparing their adults. The organization's staff initiated candid discussions and introspection, followed by their participation in an eight-week Acumen class. The course centered on sharing power and aimed to instill an appreciation for the potential of empowering youth while imparting the skills to gracefully navigate challenges. “How will our egos handle such a thing, right?”, Kate jokes. “That kind of grounded us as a staff, and then we brought everything that we learned to the board of directors. We had many sessions thinking about those things and really got them up to speed." 2. Seek External Expertise
Recognizing the value of outside perspectives, iCouldBe brought on external consultants to ensure the initiative was governed by principles of fairness, equity, and inclusivity. They also sought guidance from MENTOR New York’s Erica Friedman Coburn, who supported Kate and iCouldBe’s summer interns as they developed the young board’s structure and purpose. “It can be easier said than done to genuinely elevate youth voice, particularly when involving young people in leadership and decision-making roles,” explains Erica. “When we partner with organizations to create or enhance a youth leadership council, we explore many issues to make sure the initiative is sustainable, effective, and fulfilling to everyone involved.” These conversations gave Kate confidence that the iCouldBe team was focusing on the right priorities. “From the moment we became aware that this was even possible through the NMRC [National Mentoring Resource Council] and met with Erica for the first time, I was like, yes, this is the expertise we need. It’s the person we need, the experience we need,” Kate recalls. “She was there through the whole ride, and the interns adored her as much as I did.”
3. Listen to Your Mentees Young people are experts in their experiences—so let their voices shine. First, iCouldBe engaged students in focus groups to better understand their unique needs and perspectives. Then, they invited mentees who had completed their one-year program to be the driving force behind the board. “Students understand what their fears and concerns and opportunities are for their future,” Kate said. “How is the world of work? Can I afford to go to college and take on that debt burden? All of those questions require their voices, not only to sit at our table but to have their own table.” Select mentees took part in an intensive, three-week paid internship, during which they created community agreements, value statements, a recruitment plan, and even a handbook for how the Youth Advisory Board would function. With support, they were encouraged to take ownership of the project while sharing weekly updates with the iCouldBe team.
4. Prepare for Challenges Taking a thoughtful approach, iCouldBe's interns presented 'what if' scenarios to adult board members, exploring potential challenges such as funding shortages and mission drift. These hypothetical scenarios provided a strategic method for anticipating and managing obstacles while underscoring the value of collaborative problem-solving and decision-making. “The board members were absolutely brilliant,” Kate recalls. “Again, they were prepared. They said, ‘This is a collaborative, safe space, so as we make decisions, we're going to do it together.’” Stay tuned next week for part three of our series with iCouldBe, where we’ll explore how to budget with clarity and plan for the future.
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.
Erica Friedman Coburn is a Program Engagement Associate at MENTOR New York. Her career has spanned mentoring, higher education, and human resources. In these fields, she gained substantial experience with program management, educating young adults, and developing positive and productive relationships with people and organizations. She is currently based in Rochester, serving program partners in western New York.