Authors: Sandra Ortsman, Independent Consultant, with Anne Hand, Senior Program Manager, Hispanics in Philanthropy.
Developing new models of collaborative mentorship, services and incentives helps Latino youth thrive in Albuquerque’s South Valley.
Recruiting Latino boys and men to participate in nonprofit programming can be a challenge to even well-established organizations. For La Red del Rio Abajo’s Men and Boys pilot project, strong community connections coupled with providing much needed incentives made the process significantly easier.
The Project: A core group of five La Red organizations collectively designed a holistic, place-based pilot program centered on the meaningful engagement of 20 Latino youths who live in the South Valley. The broader aim was to build leadership and camaraderie, and support robust connections among Latino youth, their social networks and the La Red agencies, in addition to demonstrating a new model for aligning resources around common goals to achieve greater impact. Each organization contributed its expertise, resources and contacts, and they all worked together to develop and
implement the project. Throughout the nine-month program, participants received a diverse package of classes and opportunities. Topics varied from violence prevention and nonviolent communication to financial capability, business development, nutrition, health and video-making.
The project also had a strong group Youth Mentorship component, matching 20 Latino boys with 10 adult mentors. Engaging adult male mentors was a dual strategic decision: It recognized adult men in the South Valley as a precious resource, while benefiting boys in the program who lacked male mentors at home due to deportation, incarceration, substance abuse and other systemic issues. Many of the mentors expressed skepticism about working with youth when they were first approached on behalf of the initiative.
As time passed, attitudes changed dramatically. Virginia Pérez-Ortega, Prevention Director for Enlace Comunitario observed a powerful effect on the mentors as they began to form honest relationships with the youth.”
The mentors ended up learning about more than even what they contributed,” Pérez-Ortega said. “The engagement of the young men provided the elder men with hope.”
Having a core group of mentors was similarly inspirational to the youth: Several expressed that they felt more likely to give back to their community and use their time positively.
The organizations also worked to Build Assets with Latino Families by offering youths the opportunity to participate in an individual development account program. Qualifying low-income boys in the program saved $1,000 toward educational or career goals, which then earned them a $4,000 match. They also received individualized financial coaching and 10 weeks of financial literacy classes through La Red partner Prosperity Works. The individual accounts served as a significant incentive for many of the youth — and, since it required a long-term savings plan, it appeared to increase overall program retention.
Ona Porter, President and CEO of Prosperity Works, says that financial tools, such as the individual development account program, are an attractive incentive for partner organizations as well.
“If they can offer IDAs, their engagement with families can be longer and deeper,” she said, “which we know lends to high impact outcomes.” In anonymous surveys conducted by La Red, many of the youth expressed increased confidence about being able to pay for college, and shared that they felt more prepared and less afraid to apply for college.
All of the adult mentors and 13 of the 20 enrolled Latino youths remained engaged through the entire program. Interestingly, two of the seven boys who dropped out of the program did not qualify for the IDA program because of income, suggesting that IDA eligibility may be extremely useful for Incentivizing Participation among low-income boys. The youth and adult participants also received 20 weeks of fresh, locally grown organic produce from La Red member organization Agri-Cultura Network. In addition, mentors received a stipend to compensate their participation, as well as their assistance with transporting some of the youths and picking up food for meetings.
La Red offered Personalized Case Management to the boys in the program to remove barriers that could impede their participation in it and overall pathway to success in life. Barrier strategies included helping youth pass their driver’s license test and providing referrals to culturally appropriate mental health services. The broad network of La Red members expanded opportunities for participants.
“It’s one thing when one agency helps one youth or one family,” says William Poehner, Project Coordinator, “but it’s another thing when they can work together, and they’re able to touch all different agencies. It multiplies the impact.”
Lessons Learned and Next Steps: Satisfaction surveys and informal post-program interviews with participants indicate that the pilot program succeeded in meeting or exceeding its goals. The adult mentors and youths expressed that they want to remain engaged with future cohorts. Participants reported that they increased their knowledge and positively changed their behavior for nonviolent communication, healthy eating, ability to prevent violence and have healthy relationships, and more. Participants seemed grateful for the camaraderie and new relationships they formed. La Red members were also extremely pleased with the project, for its impact on the boys and men, as well as their greater capacity to develop a robust program across multiple organizations.
Moving forward, La Red members plan to spend more time directly communicating with the entire family as some of the boys reported feeling that they were advancing in their own lives at the expense of leaving their families behind. And according to La Red members, some of the boys’ mothers didn’t fully understand the program benefits and subsequently felt disconnected.
La Red is actively seeking resources to continue the project. They received bridge funding from the McCune Charitable Foundation to form another cohort over the summer of 2016.