Methods: The current study used a comparative case study method between two youth development organizations, RiseBoro Community Partnership and The ACE Project, to better understand the relevance of community mentors as staff in their after-school programs. Data were collected via semi-structured interviews with program staff and administrators for approximately one hour. Our primary questions were - RQ1: How do staff experience their work with program participants? RQ2: What are the implications of staff experiences as they impact program quality, secure staff retention, sustain participant retention and promote prolonged mentor / mentee relationships between staff and youth in urban communities? All interviews were transcribed, coded, and analyzed for emergent themes. A total of 50 surveys were collected to capture demographic characteristics, years of experience, and relationship to the community. Researchers used peer debriefing, member checking, and kept an audit trail of analytical decisions made throughout the study.
Results: The interviews revealed themes related to a) feelings of pride, self-worth, and happiness, b) observing changes in youth, and c) articulated desire to pursue racial and/or economic liberation through the pursuit of higher education. Descriptive data showed a history of participation in the agency or similar community-based organizations, being a parent or caregiver, and living in a similar or the same community. Further evidence identified differences in the historical trajectory of each organization, including agency infrastructure, operating budgets, and training priorities of staff.
Conclusion and Implications: Both selected case studies demonstrated similarities in populations and participants served; though, RiseBoro Community Partnership and the ACE Project, differ greatly in program development, design, and funding structures. Yet, both organizations promote and successfully sustain meaningful relational attachments, in part due to the unique role of community-mentors and qualitative experiences in their after-school programs. Utilizing a theoretical framework of risk reduction and protection enhancement, the presenters will explore the characteristics of community-mentors that serve to protect or provide a buffer to individual, peer, school, family and community risk factors that youth encounter. A descriptive analysis of survey data secured from RiseBoro Community Partnership and ACE Project staff will be explicated. We will conclude with a discussion on how community-mentor relationships promote opportunities for prosocial involvement, mitigate racial trauma, and provide youth with opportunities to bond to their communities.