Volume 55, Number 2 Spring 2022

Community Practitioner

Edited by Olya Glantsman, DePaul University 

Community-Based Mentors: A Hidden Treasure for Our Field 

Written by Joseph Dorri & Leonard A. Jason, DePaul University

Community psychologists are frequently involved in a vast variety of mentoring relationships in their daily work. From a Community Psychology perspective, mentees can learn about using an ecological lens and community-based participatory approaches to analyze, investigate, and address the escalating issues of economic inequality, violence, substance abuse, homelessness, poverty, and racism. Through a mentorship relationship, mentees can be provided tangible examples of what it is like to become an agent of change committed to bringing about a more equitable allocation of resources and opportunities (Jason et al., 2019). Mentees can develop the knowledge and skills to engage with their mentors in transformative applied work across a range of Community Psychology topics.

Mentees with interests in Community Psychology will benefit most when finding a mentor who is aware of and trained in ecological frameworks and practices. Community Psychology oriented mentors help mentees conceptualize systems and person-environment perspectives that are so often needed in the work practitioners are engaged in.

Mentors provide opportunities for community engagement and support in the form of insights, encouragement, feedback, and modeling, which can bolster both personal and professional development. Mentors can also provide career guidance, a form of instrumental support (Erickson et al., 2009; Dam et al., 2017). Moreover, the mentor-mentee relationship can help foster new professional and community identities. The quality of the mentor-mentee relationship can be assessed across multiple domains, such as emotional closeness, frequency of contact, support, and relationship duration (Rhodes, 2002). As an example, it has been found that greater trust and empathy that occur in mentorship relationships (Eby et al., 2013) can facilitate a healthier perspective of human interactions (Rhodes, 2005).   

An important domain for successful mentor-mentee relationships is what some refer to as social and emotional intelligence. The best mentors are skilled at building social rapport and are sensitive to the unique disposition of the mentee, to facilitate greater connectivity and trust.  Because there are often unexpected tensions that occur with efforts to bring about structural change to the status quo, a strong and positive relationship with a mentor can be particularly important during these challenging times. 

Another factor that contributes to the success and aims of the mentor-mentee relationship is persistence. Duckworth (2016) pointed out that grit, defined as passion and perseverance, is essential for achieving a variety of personal goals. A mentor might work in developing grit among mentees (Southwick et al., 2007), by demonstrating long-term commitments in their social justice efforts. Exposure to this type of modeling could help develop the mentees’ capacity for resilience, a quality often required for a lifetime of community involvement. 

Furthermore, the factor of sensitivity to diverse cultural backgrounds is important (Whitney et al., 2011) for the success of the community-engaged mentor-mentee relationship. Mentors should be aware of ethnic, socioeconomic, as well as others factors that impact relationships and community work. Having a mentor with cultural sensitivity leads to more positive outcomes when working with communities representing diverse interests. 

The mentor-mentee relationship can also influence happiness and well-being. A study on happiness conducted by Waldinger and Schulz (2010) found that quality relationships are crucial for happiness, and these relationships are more important than money or fame. When seeking a potential mentor, it is useful to identify how prospective mentors treat their other students, their colleagues, and their community partners. The following questions are worth considering by prospective mentees: Is the mentor inclusive? Does the mentor build people up or tear them down? Does the mentor treat others with respect? Does the mentor acknowledge others' contributions and celebrate their successes? 

There are multiple examples of SCRA developing mentorship opportunities, such as what occurs at the Biennial, when senior members are paired up with students and those at an early stage in their careers. In a previous issue of the Community Psychologist, Stewart and Godly-Reynolds (2020) described the SCRA Year-Long Mentoring Program, which features community psychologists pairing with mentees to expand their professional development. These authors mentioned that successful mentoring relationships often have a foundation of shared interest, open communication, mutually agreed upon expectations, and a commitment to the relationship. They found that 100% of mentors would recommend their program to a colleague or friend and 78% said “yes” to serving again in a future program. 

In closing, we have briefly reviewed a few of the issues that might be worth considering when becoming involved in mentorship relationships. We believe it is healthy to have multiple mentors, especially having some in each key area of your life and ideally one overarching or life mentor (Dorri, 2019). Fundamentally, a positive mentor-mentee relationship can be a key piece in facilitating community change. This relationship can add to a sense of meaning in life, and it can help develop aspirations to become a social change agent. For more information about mentoring, we highly recommend accessing the Center for Evidence-based Mentoring, where the work of Jean Rhodes (2022) and colleagues illustrates in greater detail how practitioners’ skills and knowledge can be increased in this area.  


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Dam, N. S., Winter, M. de, Branje, S. J., Wijsbroek, S. A., Hutschemaekers, G. J., Dekker, A, Sekreve, A., Zwaanswijk, M., Wissink, I., & Stams, G. J. J. (2017). Youth initiated mentors: Do they offer an alternative for out-of-home placement in youth care? The British Journal of Social Work, 47(6), 1764–1780. 

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