February 13, 2024, Durham, NC – iRT President Dr. Janis Kupersmidt co-led a workshop at the 14th annual National Mentoring Summit in Washington, DC, last month to discuss the need for additional training for mentors who are serving youth impacted by substance misuse.

MENTOR hosts mentoring professionals and advocates from across the nation each year during the National Mentoring Summit to share best practices, reflect on recent research and developments, and discuss future directions related to mentoring. iRT’s mentoring experts have been attendees, presenters, and/or exhibitors at the Mentoring Summit every year since the first annual meeting. Continuing our support for this important event, Dr. Kupersmidt co-led an interactive session, entitled Tips for Preparing Mentors and Staff to Support Youth Impacted by Misuse of Opioids and Other Drugs, at the 2024 meeting of the Summit. Kupersmidt presented alongside Kerri Feider, Director of Mentoring Initiatives at Leadership Foundations, and Maggie Middleton, Program Director for the Lexington Leadership Foundation and Amachi Lexington Organization.

During the workshop, Kupersmidt, Feider, and Middleton discussed the prevalence of substance misuse across the United States, particularly following the COVID-19 pandemic, and its implications for mentoring programs. Substance misuse can have significant, lasting impacts on the health and well-being of youth, and youth may be negatively impacted by substance use in a variety of ways. To address the high rates of substance use and impacts of substance misuse on youth, mentoring programs across the nation are providing opportunities for young people to engage in helping relationships with caring, responsible adults.

Effective mentoring can positively impact youth impacted by substance misuse in various ways, whether they are close to someone who is misusing drugs, are at risk for misusing substances themselves, or are in treatment or recovery for misusing. Mentoring relationships may help mentees who are at risk for substance misuse learn to cope with stress and negative emotions in a healthy way, become healthy and engaged in their community, and learn strategies to avoid substance misuse. Mentoring may help mentees who are close to someone who is misusing substances become healthy and safe, feel comfortable disclosing and discussing sensitive information with their mentor, gain a respite from stress, and be able to access community resources for substance misuse. Mentoring may help mentees who are in recovery or treatment for substance misuse feel supported instead of judged, and access community support and resources to support their efforts at maintaining sobriety.

During her presentation, Kupersmidt discussed the importance of providing specialized, pre-match training to mentors who are meeting with mentees impacted by substance misuse to improve their mentees’ chances of experiencing the positive outcomes associated with mentoring. Pre-match training may help mentors feel more prepared and confident in their abilities to be a mentor, acquire skills needed to be an effective mentor, learn to support mentees to foster positive youth outcomes, and adopt a strengths-based approach to mentoring to build assets and skills in their mentees.

Kupersmidt discussed the development of Substance of Change: Building Assets in Mentees, an evidence-informed, pre-match mentor training designed to help mentors learn strategies and skills to meet the unique needs of mentees impacted by substance misuse. Because many mentors may have limited knowledge about substances or substance misuse, the Substance of Change course is designed to not only provide mentors with skills to support mentees impacted by substance misuse but also help mentors build basic knowledge and empathy regarding the use of substances. In five interactive lessons, the web-based Substance of Change course helps mentors understand the pathways to addiction, learn how to support positive growth in their mentees, and learn key goals for mentees who may be negatively impacted by substance misuse. The course offers two additional, optional lessons designed to teach mentors strategies to support mentees who are close to someone misusing substances or mentees who are in treatment or recovery from drug use.

Substance of Change adopts a person-centered approach to mentoring by encouraging each mentor to acknowledge and utilize their mentee’s individual strengths, goals, interests, needs, and resources. Mentors learn to consider their mentee’s individual, familial, and community characteristics, and tailor their conversations and interactions with their mentee according to these characteristics. A person-centered approach to mentoring helps each mentor meet their mentee’s unique needs, as well as their mentoring program’s goals and requirements. In addition, Substance of Change adopts an asset-based approach to mentoring. Many mentoring programs train mentors to focus on reducing problem behaviors or reducing mentees’ exposure to substance use risk factors, but many mentors do not find this approach to be effective or usable long term. An asset-based approach to mentoring instead emphasizes the importance of building mentees’ assets. Assets are valuable qualities, skills, or relationships that may benefit a mentee’s life or help them succeed. Assets may be personal (e.g., knowledge, skills, and abilities), interpersonal (e.g., relationships with others), or environmental (e.g., schools and community organizations that may benefit the mentee). Substance of Change teaches mentors to identify and build their mentees’ assets during their day-to-day interactions so their mentee may experience more growth.

During the workshop, Feider shared Leaderships Foundations’ experience helping develop and implementing the Substance of Change course in their mentoring programs across the nation. Feider reported that mentors in their programs appreciated that the course helped them build empathy for people impacted by substance misuse and emphasized the importance of building a safe environment for mentees to discuss difficult subject matter. Feider felt that the course motivated personal reflection and fostered positive action in mentors who used the training. Read our case study featuring Feider to learn more about Leadership Foundations’ experience implementing the course.

In addition, Middleton described how a mentor trained in the Substance of Change course developed a positive and impactful relationship with a mentee with two parents who had addiction problems and led a discussion of the assets and goals of mentoring for this mentee. Read our case study featuring Middleton to learn more about Miami Valley Leadership Foundation’s experience implementing the course.

Other workshop attendees also shared their experiences serving youth impacted by substance misuse, discussed the topics they believe mentors should be trained on before entering a relationship with a mentee impacted by substance misuse, and participated in interactive activities to explore the positive outcomes of mentoring for mentees impacted by substance misuse.

If you are ready to start training your mentors to better support mentees impacted by substance misuse, visit our website to get started.