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Organizer Mentoring Project

Where does an organizer go for help? Obstacles arise as we move through our work, and solutions are seldom found in a textbook. You are an organizer who has worked with tenant groups and now you are organizing young people. Where do you go for advice? You are a new director with years of experience in organizing but you have replaced a long-term director. Who has had that kind of transitional experience?

This is a time of change in community organizing. In many communities, a new generation of leadership is stepping up. Long time directors are stepping into new roles and new directors take their place. In the midst of change, mentorship is often in short supply. In times of economic difficulty, groups do exemplary work but face “a key missing element” to support the work. It is essential to assist organizers on the job in order for them to be there for the long haul. It takes skilled and experienced organizers to build organizations.Talented people come into the work of organizing for social change. Too often, however, organizers leave after three to five years because they lack the support and mentoring that could sustain them in this challenging work. They have often tried to find help first but it came too late. Community organizing infrastructure is inadequate.

Organizers themselves are going to meet the need. Skilled organizers are working with NOA in planning the Organizer Mentoring Project. Experienced organizers will be available to mentor organizers with three to five years experience. The mentors will hold regular one-on-one meetings and also lead local cohorts of organizers. The goal is to sustain and nurture organizers, help them avoid burnout, develop professionally, improve their skills and understanding, find appropriate learning and leadership opportunities and support each other in the work. The“mentees” will help shape the character of the mentoring. Mentors and mentees will help fund the project.

Organizers have already raised funds to create pilot projects in Los Angeles, Washington, DC and East Tennessee in 2010. An additional initiative may take place in Boston. Funds will allow the mentors to be paid small stipends and provide funding for coordination, transportation, food and lodging. When a particular need arises, a mentor with special skills may be brought in. The need for mentors has grown in a time that is proving difficult for community organizing fundraising.

The mentorship planning committee convened in January in Washington DC.  They include (from left to right) Mary Ochs, Walter Davis, Sarah McKenzie, Michael Jacoby Brown, Roger Newell and Cathy Howell (not pictured)

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