Building The Future:
A Chamber Of Commerce Sponsored Mentoring Program For High School Students

by Dr. Mary Clement

It takes an entire village to raise a child" is an African proverb which has been cited often in our modern age. We do not really live in villages anymore, but rather in large urban communities and how our cities can help to raise a child poses an interesting question. The Illinois city of Mattoon (population 20,000) may have one answer to a part of this question. In 1992 the Mattoon Chamber of Commerce began working with area business and community leaders to provide mentors for Mattoon High School students.

The program was designed to facilitate job exploration and career development for the young people and has thrived for four years. During the 95-96 school year 36 students were matched with mentors and participated in the program. The basic components for this successful program include the chamber of commerce, the high school grant funding from an area business, and mentor training and liaison support from a neighboring university.

Timeline and responsibilities

Since collaboration is one key to the success of the program, the process begins in August with the university liaison meeting with the principal of the high school and the executive director of the chamber of commerce to discuss their expectations of the program. Tentative meeting dates are set and the budget is reviewed. Next, a grant proposal is written for the program brochure, breakfast meetings, fees for speakers and mentor training, and for a written evaluation.

Once funding has been secured (Consolidated Communications has funded the program since 1992), the high school principal begins working with the guidance counselors and teachers to select the juniors and seniors who will participate in the program. Students must submit an application at school and their commitments include:

1. willingness to interact with their mentor on a monthly basis

2. spend at least 16 contact hours with the mentor at the office/job site

3 attend three breakfast meetings, and

4. share their experiences with interested groups

The students receive copies of the program brochure and have access to a video which was made about the program.

When the students have been selected, their names and areas of interest are forwarded to the executive director of the chamber of commerce who invites area business and community members to volunteer to be mentors. Many diverse career fields have been represented by the participating mentors, including health and medicine, accounting, law, photography, law enforcement, hotel management, radio, and telephone communications.

The executive director of the chamber sets the criteria for mentor selection and makes the pairings of mentor and student. The mentors receive background information and training at the first breakfast meeting and meet their student for the first time. After the initial meeting, students are expected to call their mentors to set up times and dates for the individual meetings or worksite visits. Appropriate dress and good telephone communication skills were discussed with the students as part of their orientation.

Participants' Comments

Overall, evaluations indicate that everyone was pleased with the opportunities offered by the program. The concerns of time and scheduling will always exist ñ but clear communication at the orientation breakfasts can help to alleviate these concerns.

Students wrote that they gained much information about the jobs they studied. They listed interaction with people in the workforce, hands-on work, and adult encouragement as the most positive parts of the program. They really liked the field trips!

Mentors related that they enjoyed being mentors because the experience clarified their thinking about what they do and why they do it. Mentors felt that the students learned the most when they were "out in the field."

Making a difference

At the first breakfast meeting students were asked to interview their mentors with a series of questions including, "What did you plan to do as a career when you were my age?" and "Is this the career you are in today?" This question turned into quite an interesting icebreaker as many mentors laughed and related stories of how they became what they were today. Students need to know exactly this type of information. It is easy to say, "I want to be a physical therapist" or "I want to be a state law enforcement official," but it is very different to actually realize the work and demands required to achieve that goal.

One guest speaker looked at the student audience and reminded them that what they did today would effect what happened to them tomorrow. Another speaker stressed what wonderful opportunities the students had to talk and interact freely with the president of a major business, a well-known attorney, and the other leaders seated at their table for breakfast that morning. Yes, the adults who share their expertise in this program are making a difference!

This article has been written so that others who work in education or business may gain some ideas of how to begin a program of their own. Three excellent resources are listed at the end. One of these resources in The Kindness of Strangers by Marc Freedman. In his book, Freedman assets that some say that mentoring is just "a drop in the bucket" and that mentoring can not work solving the many big problems of all of today's youth. While mentoring may be just a drop in the bucket. Freedman ends his book with "...mentoring enables us to participate in the essential but unfinished drama of reinventing community, while reaffirming that there is an important role for each of us in it." The mentors in Mattoon, Illinois, have discovered their important role in helping young people to build their future careers and their effective program is an excellent model for others.


Freeedman, Marc. (1993). The Kindness of Strangers: Adult Mentors, Urban Youth, and the New Volunteerism. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Murray, Margo. (1991) Beyond the Myths and Magic of Mentoring: How to Facilitate and Effective Mentoring Program. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Reilly, Jill. (1992). Mentorship: The Essential Guide for Schools and Businesses.Dayton, OH: Ohio Psychology Press.

Dr. Mary C. Clement is the coordinator of the Beginning Teacher Program at Eastern Illinois University and also serves as the liaison for the university to the Mattoon Chamber of Commerce/Mattoon High School Student Mentoring Program.