Submitted by Great Life Mentoring

Great Life Mentoring (GLM), a longstanding, award-winning program serving youth in Clark County, WA who are receiving mental health services, is proud to announce that it is expanding services to youth in Portland, OR, and that it is partnering with researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) to launch the Study of Mental Health And RelaTionships (SMART). The five-year study will evaluate the effectiveness of mentoring relationships provided through GLM for promoting the resilience and well-being of youth who are experiencing mental health challenges. The study is being conducted with support of funding from the WoodNext Foundation, a component fund administered by Greater Houston Community Foundation. GLM services in the state of Washington are funded in part by a grant from Clark County, Washington. The expansion of services to Portland is being funded through a grant from The Chris and Dee Dee Gibson Foundation.

GLM’s expansion is part of the organization’s long-term strategic plan to reach more youth and increase equity with its unique mentoring model that is expected to improve the mental health conditions of youth from low-resource families. The organization plans to support thirty new mentoring relationships in Portland during the first year of the expansion, in addition to thirty new mentoring relationships in Clark County, WA. All of the youth served will be enrolled in the SMART study and will be receiving publicly funded mental health care. 

The lead researcher for the study is Dr. David DuBois, a UIC professor and nationally recognized expert on mentoring programs. “With the Surgeon General calling for research-proven strategies to combat the epidemic of loneliness among our nation’s youth, I’m excited that our study will be among the first to test the potential for adult volunteer mentorship to do just that—particularly for young persons whose lives are made more difficult as they navigate mental health challenges,” Dr. DuBois noted. Trained as a child therapist himself, Dr. DuBois appreciates the value of mental health care but also that there are significant limits to the level and types of support that a therapist or counselor can realistically provide to a young person. “GLM is a promising approach to filling these gaps,” he says, “with staff taking great care to pair each participating youth with a well-trained and compatible adult volunteer. Staff then actively support each relationship so that it can evolve into an enduring friendship that enriches the young person’s life and helps them on a path toward a healthy and fulfilling future.” 

Researchers will use a process known as random assignment to select a subgroup of youth who enroll in the study to participate in the GLM program, while the remaining youth simply continue their mental health services as usual. “This process will ensure that the two groups are similar to each other at the start of the study, so we can be confident that any later outcomes such as increased happiness or reduced feelings of loneliness are due to being in GLM,” says Dr. Carla Herrera, the other lead researcher on the study. “Random assignment has the added value of being fair because everyone gets the same chance of being part of the program, which is currently limited in the number of youth it can serve at any one time.”

A total of 180 youth ages 9 to 16 will be enrolled in the study. Annual surveys and treatment records will be used to assess outcomes. Youth will be followed from 1 to 4 years, depending on when they enroll in the study.

“Allowing the program to be put to the test in this way is an essential step for us as an organization,” noted Elizabeth Higley, GLM’s Executive Director and Founder. “It’s only with rigorous evidence of effectiveness that we can expect policy-makers and other funders to support our plans to grow the program to serve larger numbers of youth in need,” she added.  

All study procedures have been approved by the UIC Institutional Review Board which reviews studies to ensure they are ethical and safe. Parents interested in learning more about the research and whether their child may be eligible to participate are encouraged to visit the study website.

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