Mentorship Programs for Immigrants

The Basic Idea:

Help immigrants and refugees in rural communities learn – in an informal setting – about cultural practices, language, and resources available in the U.S. so they can successfully integrate into schools, workplaces, and communities.

How it Works:

  • Establish the scope and goals of the mentoring program
  • Designate volunteer mentorship coordinator(s)
  • Recruit long-term resident volunteers; recruit immigrants and refugees interested in learning more about rural U.S. culture and resources
  • Separately interview potential mentor volunteers and mentee immigrant and refugees to verify qualifications and fit
  • Provide mentors and mentees with helpful mentoring resources (for ex. list of structured activities)
  • Coordinate one-on-one matches according to availability, expertise and interests
  • Arrange for joint “meet-and-greet” with mentors, mentees and volunteer coordinator; draw up informal or formal “contract” of guidelines and expectations
  • Conduct regular check-ins to get updates from participants and to collect feedback on the program

Who does it?

  • Social service agencies
  • Schools
  • Government agencies (ex., libraries)
  • Religious organizations
  • Employers and businesses

Each of these organizations can develop a mentoring program that operates internally OR they can work collaboratively to create a mentoring program that operates across the community.


  • Mentoring can be relatively informal, requiring little administrative support
  • Can operate on little-to-no funding when done on a volunteer basis
  • Builds social capital and increases cross-cultural understanding


  • May be hard to recruit volunteers to a long-term commitment
  • May be hard to recruit participants
  • Success of the program is largely based on the mentor-mentee relationship. If participation lags, may not be as successful overall
  • Language barriers can pose a challenge

Simplicity Index:

Momentum can build after a slow start. Outreach in rural communities can be challenging for organizations. Building enthusiasm and getting “buy-in” from long-established rural community residents requires persistent planning, organization, and effort. However, momentum can quickly build once a core group of mentors commits to the program and the program’s successes become well publicized.

Quilt it:

Earn It/Keep It/Grow It– Mentorship programs often help immigrants understand and develop the basic skills and behaviors – such as language proficiency, technological skills, and cultural norms – needed to succeed in school or the workplace. But mentors can also help immigrants understand and connect to other resources like employment, financial institutions, transportation, tax credits, etc, that help lay the foundation that immigrants need to earn more, keep more of what they earn and grow what they keep into assets over time.


  • World Farmers Flats Mentor Farm helps small farmers of diverse ethnic backgrounds – especially immigrants and refugees – with land procurement and maintenance, farming infrastructure and marketing assistance needed to promote and sustain successful farming enterprises. Experienced farmers help mentees find resources, assist with hands-on-training and provide technical assistance on soil fertility, irrigation, and pest and weed management and marketing.
    • Program Result: To date, 30% of participants have purchased or are leasing their own farm. Of this group, 60% are women that have established their own operations in different parts of the USA (NC, CA, MS, and WI).
    • Success Story: Since graduating from the farming mentorship program, one farmer no longer has food problems; she is able to provide her family with a reliable food supply while making extra money at farmer’s markets. Her success also includes receiving support through a USDA National Resources Conservation Service grant.
  • Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance Migrant Mentoring Program matches children from local migrant camps with community volunteers. The goal of the program is to increase the comfort level of the children and their families in the local community, increase access to community resources, build cultural bridges, and assist with academic achievement of migrant children. Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance also provides useful resources and activities for mentors and mentees.
    • Program Result: Mentees report feeling more courageous about trying new things after going places with their mentors
    • Program Result: Mentees and their families report feeling like mentors become “like family”
  • Dayton Public Schools has established a Welcome Center for immigrants and individualized mentoring and tutoring with community volunteers to help smooth new residents’ transition and help them thrive. Mentors don’t need special qualifications or certifications, but they’re asked to commit to at least one year and to participate in varying trainings. Refugee students and their families sign a ‘contract’ with the Welcome Center, promising to follow through with the mentoring program. Learn more about the program here.

Action Resources:

RuFES is a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group.
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