Effective mentorship has proven itself time and again over the course of Tracy Luca-Huger’s professional journey.
“…in various programs and prevention programs, it always came down to the relationships — whether that was with professionals, other volunteers — that made the greatest significant impact on young people to either gain new perspective, or to see their potential, to see a different opportunity for them,” says Luca-Huger, who worked in a residential treatment program early on in her career.
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Welcome to where parents talk. My name is Lianne Castelino. Our guest today is a certified Canadian counsellor experienced in the charitable sector. Her expertise comes in developing mentoring programs. Tracy Luca Huger is the executive director of mentor Canada. She’s also a mom of one. And she joins us today from Calgary. Thank you so much for taking the time.
Thank you for having me, Lianne, excited for our conversation today.
Well, it is an exciting conversation because mentorship, I think we’re hearing that term more and more of these days, certainly because of the pandemic. But even before that, more and more people looking for mentors. Tell me about your journey into this whole world of mentoring and mentorship and developing these programs. Because it has been such a big part of your professional journey. How did it Where did it stem from for you.
I have been working with young people for many, many years. And early in my career, I had worked at a residential treatment program, working with some of the toughest barrier youth that really needed to leave their homes leave their communities for support. And what became really, really apparent was that it was the relationships during that time, even of treatment that supported those young people to get through that to reach a different place. And then as I continued to work throughout my career, in various programs and prevention programs, it always came down to the relationships, whether that was with professionals, others volunteers, that made the greatest significant impact on young people to either gain new perspective, or to see their potential to see a different opportunity for them. And so those relationships, and that core, really of who we are, as humans, really highlighted for me. So I had the opportunity then to move into roles that focused on building mentoring opportunities for young people, whether that was formal or informal. And that continues to play such a key role in my career, and led me to this position and this organization and Mentor Canada.
Let’s unpack a little bit of that if we can. And let me ask you, why is mentorship, something important for parents to potentially have on their radar as it relates to their own children and families.
So very important, many times parents think that it’s them, and that they need to be that significant adult in their life and to influence into support, we’re really it goes back right in generations that it takes a village to raise a child. And that is so very, very critical. And when we look at indigenous communities, that has been the philosophy for a very, very long time and for smaller communities. And so for parents, I encourage you to really think about how do you seek out either formal programs where you can seek out a formal mentor? And we can we’re going to talk about that a little bit later as well. But how do you engage those individuals to add other perspective, other supports, networks and relationships that are positive for your child to support you, but also them in their development? Right, you as a parent, have a certain role. But a mentor and somebody else that can is outside of your family can actually continue to have different conversations with them, maybe nudge and push them to gain different perspective, in a very, very different way. And so that’s just so important, because it influences your young person in your child around different career opportunities, different education opportunities, exposes them to other ways of life, other value sets to add to them as being a whole person. And so those supports are really critical. It’s not deficit based, it
really is about adding to who they are, and for those, and for your young people, to have connections with community.
So then how does a parent know when and you know, what sort of criteria should they be potentially looking for? Before deciding that maybe they need to seek a mentor for their child?
I don’t know if there’s a sign or a symbol because this isn’t about crisis, right? And this isn’t about, oh, my child is struggling. And maybe it could be. But this is really about enhancement. And so I just want to take a minute and talk about mentoring a little bit. Because mentoring and mentoring relationships are both significant others and again, person’s life. So that can be formal through a program through a program where they train screen that and connect young people with a mentor. And that is the goal of the program. They’ve got professional staff that are supporting that. But there’s other ways as well. So when we look at informal mentoring, that could be a teacher, a coach, a youth worker, a pastor, somebody else in that young person’s life that supports that young person that may not be formally connecting to that young person, but they build the synergy in that connection. And then natural mentors, those people For that naturally exist in your life, a neighbor, an aunt or an uncle, a cousin, somebody else that naturally exists. And so for parents think about those individuals that are also in their lives that you can encourage your child to connect with. So through a formal program, some of them are standalone mentoring programs and others exists whether youth community programs, as well as mentoring is embedded into that approach, where those your young person in your child has the opportunity to connect with other significant adults. And so it might be where they’re struggling, and maybe want somebody significant in their life to spend some time with them, one to one or within a group setting. But really look for those opportunities for your child to build other supports with other adults to gain that connection.
So I think that’s a really important point. Let me ask you on that note, Tracy, how would you go about describing currently, sort of the landscape of mentorship in Canada among youth as it currently stands?
Yeah, it’s interesting, we conducted research back in 2020, around the state of mentoring. And that was the first research that existed in Canada, we didn’t really understand or have a good baseline on what were the experiences of young people. And so from that, we engaged over 3500 young adults to retrospectively think about their childhood and their adolescence and growing up. And here’s what we learned, we learned that 55% of young people growing up, didn’t know how to find a mentor, they didn’t necessarily know where to find when in their community didn’t know how to access one didn’t know, even if one existed within their community. So that’s a really, really important piece of knowledge. They didn’t also 42% of young people didn’t understand the value that mentoring could play in their lives, and that there was a gap. We know that one in four young Canadians have grown up, at some point in time wanting a mentor, but not being able to access one. And those are huge gaps in our community and in our society. Earlier you shared that mentoring is building momentum, and that people are talking about it more and more. And that makes my heart sing. Because that is our role at mentor Canada, we want more people to gain an understanding of the influence, the impact, and the necessity that young people have mentors in their lives. And so that’s really important. There is a gap. We know that more young people want to have access to mentors, but we need to provide those opportunities either as citizens to step up as teachers and neighbors to take interest in value in the young people that are in our worlds, and the way that we engage with them. And that for more programs and initiatives to exist within Canada to meet the needs of young people today.
I guess an important starting point as I listened to sort of the the results of that survey and sort of the subject at large is really understanding what does it take to be a good mentor.
So that’s an important one, because it really is about listening, it’s about being person centered. It’s about taking the time to hear about a lived experience. It really is also about balancing teaching and learning. And so a mentor has a really great opportunity to nudge to encourage sometimes to push a little bit further for a young person to really test who they are, to explore opportunities and to gain that confidence. And so mentors play a significant role to help young people to gain perspective. So it’s important for mentors to think about that, that they need to be present, to listen to the lived experience, because it might be very different. And what we also know is our own lived experiences ours, and certainly from generations and for young people who have grown up during COVID. that lived experience of childhood and adolescence is very different than us as adults experiencing COVID. And some of those developmental stages that they needed to go through during COVID as well be respectful of a young person’s values of who they are the family that they come from their own cultural background and their own cultural norms. Those are experiences that are an opportunities and really important for young people. Because their own barriers and their own lived experience is important and equity deserving young people have very different lived experience than other young people. And that’s important to hear those struggles and their journey but also where they want to go, what their dreams are, what they’re hoping to achieve in their life or even during that school year.
It would also seem to be important if we understand what it takes to be a good mentor. What would what should we be looking for in terms of A mentor that maybe is not ideal, because I think it’s important for people to also understand the other side of the coin here.
Yeah. So for parents, I think that it’s really important to listen to your, to your child and to your young person about what they want what they’re interested in. And we know that our children certainly are different individuals and who we are. And they might have different interests and different and very different personalities. And so you want to make sure that a mentor is not trying to replace you, as a parent figure that’s important. That is a key piece, when we’re training mentors and talking with them about their role is that the parent is the parent, you were there to walk alongside a journey for a young person to encourage to look for opportunities to encourage them to reach their potential. The other pieces is that you don’t want somebody to take on that therapist or counselor role, right? There are paid professionals that do that, that are highly skilled and trained. And a mentor is not somebody to take on that role as well. Not somebody’s going to fix everything, and not somebody who’s going to change their values and your family values that is going to be respectful of that. There’s a difference between sharing perspectives and lived experience, but you don’t want somebody to try and influence right your own family values and your own values of who you are, and your own family, cultural background and your own religious beliefs. Those are important. So it’s about influence on future potential, but not about some of those core values you want, you don’t want to seek out a mentor that necessarily is controlling of who your young person is, as well. And so programs do a really good job about vetting and screening, ensuring that individuals that are stepping up into that space are a good fit for that specific program, that specific type of mentoring opportunity. And so through formal programs, that’s really important.
Now, with respect to the study that mentor Canada conducted that you mentioned earlier, what were some of the benefits that came out of that study, as it concerns mentorship and young people?
Yeah, so what we found was that 75% of young people that grew up with a mentor reported that their mentor had a significant influence on their self confidence and their self esteem. That’s huge when young people are going through transitions and different developmental stages, that there’s somebody there who gets them listens, and helps to build their confidence, not only for who they are as an individual, but confidence about making decisions and opportunities for the future. That’s really important. Young people also reported that they were, that had a mentor were two times more likely to feel belonging, connection to their community. And during this time, and certainly, you know, post COVID, and pandemic that was just so important, because people were experiencing isolation. And that still is a very, very big impact for young people today. So that connection to community in that sense of belonging is so very, very important. We also know that 95% of young people who had either a formal or informal mentor, completed high school and were more likely to continue on into post secondary. Those are important pieces as we look to the future for young people, reaching those milestones and looking to future opportunities, and being equipped for work of tomorrow, and future career opportunities.
You talk about social isolation, certainly one of many current societal challenges affecting all of us, but in particular, young people. Are there any other specific challenges that the study pointed to that mentoring of youth can support?
Yeah, absolutely. And certainly when we spoke, and we talk about equity seeking to young people and equity deserving young people, we know that young people from diverse backgrounds that are equity deserving, demonstrated incredible impact by having a mentor. We know that 95% of newcomer young people that grew up having a mentor were more likely to be employed, or studying in post secondary or some type of education setting. 92% of transgender young people and black young people were the same. They were either in employment, working or loo king at pursuing education in a different way. Same thing for young people. 86% of young people with a diagnosed disability were also employed, or in studying. These are big statistical numbers and influence of the role of mentors have in young people’s lives. We know that over half of young people in our study that had a mentor grew up and acquired the job related skills that they needed for work for tomorrow and feeling equipped for job readiness. That one in three young people got a job because of their mentor. And that’s the beautiful thing about mentorship. And the way that this impacts young people is that a mentor has the ability then to connect them to their networks, to look at that sponsorship, to connect them to somebody that they know to open a door for them or an opportunity. So it continues to build out that social capital, and opportunities for young people to feel connected to people beyond their own circles and beyond their own community.
Tracy, I’m curious as somebody who’s been in this space for a while, what struck you most about the findings of that study that you’ve your referencing,
the biggest piece for me is that one in four Canadians are growing up without access to a mentor, that is huge, right? That’s a quarter of young people that are not, do not have those opportunities, or don’t have the awareness or, or knowledge on how to find a mentor, or feel that they can have access. And so that piece is an important one for us. Because it’s, as we spoke about some of that’s about awareness building, what does it mean? Who is a mentor? How do you define that? Understanding that mentorship is wide in scope, it could be long term, could be short term could be through a formal program, or through another adult that is in your life. So that is the most significant, but also the impact that mentoring has on young people that for their future, right to build their future to look at that encouragement that young people are able to access jobs and look at their potential. And that community connectedness, we know that all of us during COVID, and during the pandemic experienced isolation, and for young people to have experiences with mentorship, knowing that they felt more connected more connected to their community, and felt that there was belonging. And I think that that’s just so very, very important as we come out of the pandemic.
Now, speaking of long term impact, can you take us through and paint a picture for us of what are some of the long term impacts of positive mentoring of youth look like when those youth become adults?
Yeah, so as I share, those young people are employed, right, they’re getting connection to employment to job opportunities to future opportunities. They’re also seeking out opportunities for post secondary, we also found that young people that had a mentor, were able to seek out either bursaries or opportunities to get into post secondary, if there were facing barriers. So it’s leveraging those relationships and those connections, to knowledge to opportunities outside of their own world and outside of their own community that I think is so so very important. And those who really big statistical impacts for young people, they want those opportunities, young people want to look at their future, they don’t necessarily know of opportunities for tomorrow and work of tomorrow. And mentorship plays a role for that for young people and building up their confidence, but also skill development for their future.
It’s interesting, because mentor Canada is a relatively young organization, in its current form, even though parts of it have existed as I understand for for some time, the timing of the pandemic, the impact of it, the global epidemic, that is youth mental health, all of these things, it’s really a confluence of factors that now really, in many ways point to mentoring as a viable option potentially for many families. Can you take us through? First of all, what are the services, the main services that mentor Canada provides for young people?
Yeah, absolutely. So we are an organization that does not necessarily work directly with younger people. Our role within the sector is to build a mentoring network and to further increase mentoring opportunities for young people. So we work directly with service providers, with communities with provinces within regions and governments to look at increasing mentoring opportunities for young people on the ground. But here’s where we do work with some young people and where we look at those opportunities. So we’ve created a interactive database platform called Mentor Connector, any Canadian can search Mentor Connector for a mentoring opportunity, and whether that is a Canadian that wants to get involved and become a mentor step into that space, they can key in their postcode and look for mentor mentoring opportunities within their community, or broader across Canada. And this holds true also because part of Mentor Connector is at any young person or parent can also search that database, and that system for mentoring opportunities in Canada, and so you can search up again, formal programs that exist within your community, ie mentoring and virtual mentoring opportunities are so critical, especially for rural and remote communities and young people. So again, they can search for mentoring opportunities and connect directly with those programs and those opportunities. That’s one. The other place that we’re doing some really important work is around connecting businesses and corporations. teams and those paid professionals to act as mentors, for one time, mentoring opportunities to engage with young people, certainly those that are in high school are 18 to 30 years old to engage in career mentoring conversations. And so pair of mentoring events are ways for young people to also, they’re not sure, right? It’s like, I’m still not sure. Not sure if I really want a formal mentor. But I’d like to engage in a conversation maybe about a career opportunity, how do I get my foot in the door? What are new career pathways? How do I develop a resume? How do I enter into a first time interview with a professional, so we facilitate these one time events for young people 90 minutes in duration, so that young people can engage in these informal connections with professionals of various tenure from across the country to learn about work of tomorrow and career opportunities. So we do offer those opportunities not only for paid professionals to get involved in mentorship and understand what that is, but we also offer those for young people to engage in those informal connections, and to start to understand about opportunities for their careers in post secondary.
Now, many of us would be of a certain age certainly would recognize Big Brothers and Big Sisters as a, as a brand and an organization that’s existed for many years. And has, you know, a lot of expertise in this space. How do you go about connecting mentors to the appropriate men teeth?
Yeah, so Big Brothers Big Sisters is absolutely one long standing organization, that part of my career spent a great deal of time in that organization as well. And so in formal programs, like a big brother, big sister program, they spend a great deal of time and other organizations as well across the country in screening, vetting, getting to know who those individuals are, what their skill sets are, what their values are, what their interests are. They also spend time with young people in those formal programs in their parents and families to get to know who they are, what their interests are, where there are needing support, maybe, but also about what they would like to gain and garner from mentoring. And so they have dedicated skilled professionals in formal programs, that that is their job. And that is their career, focus is around matching. And so really listening to what the goal of their mentoring program is whether that’s career development, helping a young person through transition times, high school into post secondary, maybe young person is struggling with mental health. And their program focuses on those supports, or building developmental relationships. And so they’re very intentionally looking at who that young person is, and who that volunteer mentors and finding the appropriate match. Some programs also offer opportunities for youth to select their own mentor, that they can engage and have conversation before deciding that they want to engage formally with a mentor. So that’s important was that first piece, then they introduce a mentor and a young person together, whether that’s one on one or in a group setting, and then they support those relationships for the duration. And whether that is four months, six months or a year or longer. Pay professionals and formal programs are there to support that relationship, help to navigate challenges, evolution and developmental stages for that young person, if it’s long, a long enduring relationship. Also, if a young person in that program is focused on certain areas where that mentor needs skill development, and whether that is looking at racial bias, looking at mental health needs, those programs, equip mentors with professionals and training and understanding around mental health around those skill sets, to support young people through those mentoring relationships. So those are important pieces for parents to understand that formal programs are dedicated and honing in on supporting that relationship, finding the right mentors, and then supporting young people and families as they engage in those relationships long term or short term.
Along those lines, could you paint a picture for us as to what kind of sort of baseline training does a potential mentor get? Because is everybody who wants to sign up to be a mentor, potentially a mentor at the end of it? Are there some people that potentially aren’t, you know, qualified, or this is not for them in the end?
Yeah, absolutely. That is a really important piece of formal mentoring programs. The training that mentors get absolutely needs to hone in on the programming tools and what the role is that they’re expected to do. Very much this is based on age and stage of who that young person is, and the risk involved as well. And so not every mentor and every good Canadian that steps up to say yeah, I want to be a mentor in this program is necessarily an appropriate fit for that program, or the right fit based on values and who they are in their skill set. So programs take that time to ensure that those individuals stepping into that space are the right mentors for that program context in that mentoring experience. So that’s important. What is most critical is that mentors understand what their role is, what a mentor should do and could do and should be honing in on and what they’re not what their role is not understanding what the goals of the program is understanding who those young people are, that potentially are coming into their program, their own lived experience, a young person’s value set, and certainly about the age and stage of who they are. So most programs, and this is the role that Metro Canada plays is helping programs and initiatives to look at increasing the quality of those services and the programs that they’re offering, looking at key best practices and elements of effective mentoring, looking at program integrity, and what are the elements of programs and supports that need to be in place to ensure that young people and parents stepping into that space around formal programs experience high quality, because while we do want to do ensure that when a young person does step into that space and say I’m ready to have a mentor, or parent is seeking out those are opportunities for a young person, a formal program, that it’s a good positive experience that helps a young person to grow, that the program is focusing on nurturing that young person and helping them to attain the goals that they want to achieve. And so that’s really critical that we hone in and support and build capacity amongst mentoring programs, to ensure that that training is honing in on the right information, and developing the right skills for mentors, and then ongoing support for them. While they’re in that mentorship role.
I’m curious because you talk about ages and stages. And it sounds like really having the mentor meet the mentee where they’re at in their life, whatever their situation is, and what for whatever reason they are seeking out a mentor. So is there an optimal age at all, in terms of when a parent or a young person should consider reaching out to a potential mentor?
It really is not an ideal age, I really do think that the opportunities to have a mentor should be long and enduring and throughout a lifetime. And so there is a misconception that a young person should have an mentor. And I want to dispel that misbelief because if we look back in our own lives, most of us have not had a formal mentor. Hopefully moving forward, young people have those opportunities as well. But the majority of Canadians have had informal mentoring experiences where we’ve individually identified that a teacher or a significant adult has played a mentoring role. The key is, is that it’s been more than one mentor. Different mentors, and different individuals play different roles in our lives. Some of them lasts a lifetime. Others are there only for a short period of time. But it’s about adding that perspective and building up who you are at a different stage and age of who you are and different developmental needs. So a young person may not have grown up having a mentor until they’re 18 or 30. And then end up engaging with a career mentor or somebody in a workplace setting. Those mentors are important. And so for young people, of course, growing up and having a host of mentors throughout their lifetime is so important, and certainly during adolescence, and that’s what our research demonstrated. And so we want to fill that gap. But is there a right age? Not necessarily. I think the goal is is that young people should be provided with those opportunities, and that they have more than one mentor throughout their lifetime.
Tracy, given your experience, and certainly your current role. Where would you like to see mentorship in Canada go in both the short term and long term?
Yeah, this is this is a big one. And it’s a it’s a big, you know, dream and a big wish is that every young person has access access to mentoring, when they wanted to meet them, where they’re at exactly what you said, and to support them in ways that they need to be supportive. And so I like to look at mentorship, that it’s not a nice to have that it’s an essential to have as part of our developmental growing as young people and as humans throughout our lifespan, and that every young person should have access to mentoring when they need it when they want it. And as they continue to grow and transition throughout their lifetime. So that’s long term, right is that it’s a right to have not a nice to have, and that people are stepping into that space, whether that’s to become a formal mentor, or as Canadians that we’re really thinking about the way we engage with young people and the influence that we have on them through conversations and through time spent that that is mentoring that I would love for Canadians to start to build out a mentoring mindset that mentoring is embedded into every aspect of our life and every transitional and developmental stage that we’ve got access to mentors that some day that it’s rare for a young person to say, Oh, I didn’t have a mentor. that everyone would have those experiences that they can speak and reflect on. And that as a society that we’re really looking at mentoring and very different models and molds, because they need. We need those opportunities. We need those people to work and to be on side with us to nudge us to seek our potential to gain perspective, to look at intergenerational connectedness and intercultural connectedness as well. Our societies are changing, our communities are changing, and we need to garner better understanding and connectedness, especially for those young people that are equity deserving and facing significant barriers around connection and meaningful relationships.
So much tremendous insight. Tracy Luca huger executive director of mentor Canada. We really appreciate your time and your perspective today. Thank you.
Thank you so much for having me.
During an interview with Lianne Castelino for Where Parents Talk, Luca-Huger, Executive Director of Mentor Canada continues to witness the value of effective mentoring and mentorship, against the backdrop of an even greater need.
“It’s not a nice-to-have, it’s an essential-to-have, as part of our developmental growing as young people and as humans throughout our lifespan,” says the mother of one who has extensive experience in building mentoring programs. “Every young person should have access to mentoring when they need it, when they want it, and as they continue to grow and transition throughout their lifetime.”
Itself a relatively young organization, Mentor Canada was founded in 2019 by a trio of organizations — Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada, the Alberta Mentoring Partnership and the Ontario Mentoring Coalition.
By comparison, its sister organization, MENTOR in the United States has existed for more than 30 years.
One of Mentor Canada’s first tasks after being launched was to better understand the mentoring landscape in Canada. It undertook a national study in 2020.
“That was the first research that existed in Canada,” continues Luca-Huger. “We didn’t really understand or have a good baseline on what were the experiences of young people.”
The retrospective study of 3,500 young adults yielded many key findings. “We learned that 55% of young people growing up didn’t know how to find a mentor, they didn’t necessarily know where to find one in their community, didn’t know how to access one, didn’t know if one existed within their community,” she says.
The global pandemic, the escalating worldwide epidemic of youth mental health, and other societal challenges have only further underscored the importance of effective mentorship for teens, youth and young adults.
“We want more people to gain an understanding of the influence, the impact, and the necessity that young people have mentors in their lives,” adds Luca-Huger. “There is a gap. We know that more young people want to have access to mentors, but we need to provide those opportunities either as citizens to step up as teachers and neighbours to take interest in the young people that are in our worlds, and the way that we engage with them.”
Mentor Canada works in four key areas, namely: research, public education, regional networks development and technology.
It also recently unveiled a revamped version of “the only national database for mentoring” in Canada called Mentor Connector.
During her interview with Where Parents Talk, Tracy Luca-Huger also discusses:
- Why consider a mentor
- What makes a good mentor
- National mentorship survey key findings
- Characteristics of a less-effective mentor
- Short-term benefits of mentoring
- Impacts of mentoring over the lifespan
- How youth who are mentored are impacted in adulthood
- Services provided by Mentor Canada