Shelterwood’s unique mentoring program helps support struggling teens through positive, caring relationships. 

“We bring in young adult men and women who are just a few years ahead of our kids,” Elizabeth Ducker, Girls Residential Director, says. “They’ve had life experience and stepped into adulthood. They are young enough that they are really relatable to Shelterwood kids, but they are also old enough that they can help guide them. I think that’s really profound.”

The mentor relationship is unlike any other teens have likely experienced. Mentors live in the house and are able to connect with teens as a fun guide and a trustworthy confidant. They bond over shared passions like art and music, hang out during teens’ free time, and just do daily life side-by-side. But Justin Simmons, Guys Residential Director, says the mentors also have to take on the harder tasks of making sure students attend school, finish homework, and go to their doctor’s appointments. They help teens through tough relationships and set healthy boundaries. It’s not like a regular peer-to-peer relationship.

“With a friendship, you are getting something out of it,” Justin explains. “Mentors have other friendships. They don’t need anything out of the mentor relationship. They are doing this because they want to give something. They see something in this student that they see in themselves, and they want to shepherd and grow that. They want to see them succeed.” 

How mentorship works
Mentors are part of Shelterwood’s treatment teams and mentor a “little” from that team’s client list. They are a key part of the treatment team meetings and help provide valuable insight on how teens are doing in their daily lives.  

“We get to troubleshoot together,” says Elizabeth. “Mentors get to learn from this professional staff with incredible experience and knowledge, and then they get to implement. They get to bring questions and challenges. We all engage with that together.”

 Shelterwood values authentic, organic connection, so mentors aren’t expected to automatically be close with an assigned mentee. As mentors and students get to know each other, closer relationships can form over shared interests, experiences and values. Over time, mentors can build the necessary trust with students that allows them to speak truth into their lives. 

“All of our kids are different and unique and have different needs,” Elizabeth says. “Thankfully, we have a lot of different staff who can uniquely meet those needs.” 

Why mentorship works
Part of why the mentorship relationship works is the amount of time mentors invest in Shelterwood’s young people. 

“The reason our process takes so long—and why we believe in long-term care—is because we have a lot more influence inside a six to eight-month relationship where we’ve built trust,” says Justin. “I can tell that person a lot harder things, and they’ll listen.”

Just like adults, Justin says teens don’t listen to advice coming from someone who hasn’t taken the time to get to know them. 

“They aren’t listening—and now they just don’t like you,” he laughs. 

That hard-won trust comes invaluable when the going gets tough. Outside of the classroom, chapel and therapist’s office, teens do the hard work of putting what they are learning into practice. Mentors are there to support them as they translate theoretical lessons into real-life, daily action. 

Shelterwood teens don’t find restoration alone. They find it inside an accepting community committed to knowing them and helping them grow. 

“God designed us to be in relationship with Him and to be known,” Elizabeth says. “And heart change doesn’t come from a rote set of rules. It comes through relationship and knowing you’re loved.”

Do you know a struggling teen who could use the support of a trusted mentor? Talk to one of our admissions counselors today about how mentorship is integrated into Shelterwood’s holistic treatment program.