Mentors: A key piece to the treatment puzzle

Mentors are an essential component of Shelterwood’s multi-disciplinary, relationship-based model of care. Every student who comes to Shelterwood is paired with a mentor, who works closely with therapists and teachers to help guide the teen’s toward healing. Kortney Levy, Shelterwood’s Director of Recruiting, is charged with finding energetic, empathetic people to fill these all-important roles.

What do mentors do?

“Mentors really do life with our kids,” Kortney explains. “They meet our kids where they are and ride that roller coaster with them.”

Most mentors, or “bigs,” live on-campus, so they can become a trusted, consistent presence in the lives of their “littles,” Shelterwood students. Mentors range in ages and backgrounds, but share a dynamic attitude and a heart for helping young adults believe in their self-worth. Mentors are a vocal part students’ treatment teams. They work with their student’s teachers, clinical therapists and adjunct therapists to monitor and encourage the their progress.

“The mentors have a really loud voice in the team meeting, because they are with them significantly more hours than the rest of the treatment team,” Kortney says. “Mentors get the good, the bad and everything else. They can get a really honest snapshot of where the child is.”

In contrast to the help faculty and counselors deliver Shelterwood’s teens, mentors offer something a little different: Friendship. Bigs give students the gift of presence. Whether their time is spent in planned recreation or more unstructured conversations, mentors help reinforce a key lesson Shelterwood wants to impart: You are valuable and worth investing in.

“Our kids are so immersed in therapy, school and their road to recovery,” Kortney says. “I want our mentors to have fun with our kids. Our kids need to learn what it is to be a kid again.”

Who makes a good mentor?

Kortney knows she’s looking for people with a pretty unique set of skills and qualities.

“The job is a hard one,” she says, “but our mentors always say: It’s the toughest, greatest year of your life.”

Kortney looks first for someone with strong character. “I want them to be someone our kids can hold high,” Kortney says. “I want our kids to look at their mentors and say, ‘I want to be that when I get older.’”

Kortney assures Shelterwood parents that she only hires people she would want to mentor her own children. She takes that parent-perspective very seriously: Would she feel comfortable putting this person up as a role model for her child? If not, it’s a pass.

She also looks for people who are living out an authentic faith. “I want them to sincerely love God—that’s a reason many of  our families choose Shelterwood.”

She looks for candidates with humility and teachability. Shelterwood is significantly different from other residential therapy programs, so the training is extensive. Mentors spend two weeks learning and shadowing before they begin day-to-day work. They are introduced to Shelterwood’s culture, history and staff. They dive deep into the therapies Shelterwood offers and the issues their mentees could be dealing with. They talk about how to respond to high-intensity situations, learn safety techniques, and complete necessary certifications.  

Kortney also wants mentors who can stay for a full year. Kortney looks for committed candidates who can provide consistency to young people with attachment disorders or fears of abandonment.

Mental toughness is a really big thing,” she says. “There are going to be days when you want to quit, so you need to tell me why you would stay.”

Lifelong Impact

Many mentors stay in touch with their mentees or “littles” as they are called, long after they’ve both moved on from Shelterwood. The relatively short amount of time they spend “doing life” with their “littles” has an outsized impact on that student’s future. Past mentors are often invited to graduations, weddings and even baby showers years later.

“Students come in so lost and broken and hurting,” Kortney explains. “And then this person, this stranger, loves them through it. It’s such a powerful relationship that’s built.”

Want to hear more about Shelterwood’s unique approach to teens’ healing and recovery? Reach out! Know an empathetic, faithful individual who would make a great Shelterwood mentor? Encourage them to find out more about our application process!

Posted in Staff Profiles