Surry/Stokes Friends of Youth (SFOY) knows the challenges and rewards of serving at-risk youth who live in a small, rural community all too well. The organization began providing programs and services to youth residing in Surry County, North Carolina, in 1976 and expanded its service area to also serve youth in Stokes County, North Carolina, beginning in 1986. In addition to offering counseling, anger management classes, community service opportunities, parent training workshops, and substance use disorder screening and treatment services, SFOY provides mentoring opportunities for at-risk youth aged 6-17, as well as for youth aged 8-25 with a mental or physical disability.
SFOY’s newest mentoring program, Enhanced Mentoring for Substance Abuse-Affected Youth (SEMSAY), matches youth who are impacted by substance use, and may or may not be involved with the local juvenile justice system and/or Child Protective Services, with a caring and responsible adult. SEMSAY gives mentees a context to receive care and support in dealing with daily challenges and gives mentors the opportunity to promote positive change in the lives of their mentees. However, administering and maintaining these services is not without challenges. Serving a high-risk population often poses challenges to recruiting and retaining volunteer mentors, particularly in rural areas that have a smaller pool of potential adult volunteers to draw from. Because mentors and mentees often have unclear expectations for mentoring relationships, adults may be reluctant to volunteer for programs that serve at-risk youth; mentees may be indifferent or apprehensive about participating in mentoring activities; and matches may end prematurely due to mentor and/or mentee dissatisfaction with the relationship.