Promising Practices Program

Administering Organization

GirlForward - Chicago, IL

Program Name

Mentorship Program

Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed

GirlForward provides adolescent refugee girls with individual mentorship, educational programs and leadership opportunities, creating a community of support that serves as a resource and empowers girls to be strong, confident, and independent.  

Once resettled in the U.S., refugee girls face overwhelming responsibilities and social isolation, compared with their male counterparts, but often receive very limited support. Our Mentorship Program aims to address five key challenges faced by refugee girls: poverty, social isolation, language barriers, limited/interrupted education, and the need for positive role models.

Program Description

Our Mentorship Program matches refugee girls, ages 14-19, with women volunteer mentors who commit to one year of mentoring, through meeting with girls at least two hours per week. Mentors and girls work together to set and achieve short and long-term educational goals. Our curriculum focuses on four themes.

  1. Wellness:Health, nutrition, relationships, self-image
  2. Wisdom:Academic success, higher education, leadership
  3. Wallet:Winancial literacy, securing employment
  4. World:Wavigating a new community, trying new things, leadership

Mentors work with girls to address relevant topics for each theme. The Mentorship Program curriculum includes pre-designed activities and a point system, which is used to track progress and ensure that girls obtain a well-rounded knowledge and skill set throughout the program. This also allows GirlForward to enroll girls of varying educational backgrounds and language abilities, resulting in a better service model for a diverse population than grouping girls based on age or grade level.

Mentors complete monthly evaluations to update GirlForward on participant progress, and GirlForward staff conducts monthly evaluations with girls to ensure a positive experience on both sides.

In addition to one-on-one mentorship, participation includes monthly group activities in order to build a community of support between girls and our volunteer mentors.

Girls who graduate from the Mentorship Program receive staff support with planning for and enrolling in higher education or attaining a post-secondary credential.

In addition to the Mentorship Program, GirlForward runs Camp GirlForward, a summer academic program for refugee girls in Chicago entering grades 9-12. Participants receive instruction in English, math, and computer skills from a teacher and several teaching assistants, and participate in enrichment activities designed to foster leadership skills and build confidence. The program focuses heavily on reading and writing skills, as well as digital literacy. Each participant is given an unlimited-ride CTA public transportation pass for the duration of camp, allowing girls to learn to navigate their neighborhoods and increasing their mobility during the summer months.

Resource Materials Used in Program

Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring, from MENTOR 

Groups Served by Program

Adolescent refugee girls ages 14-19; the program is designed to include refugee girls of all backgrounds. Countries of origin have included: Bhutan/Nepal, Burma, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Somalia and Sudan.  

Program Funding

The Mentorship Program is funded by Chicago Foundation for Women, Northern Trust Centennial Fund, a Donor-Advised Fund of the Chicago Community Trust, and Bain Capital Children's Charities.  Camp GirlForward receives funding from American Association of University Women. 

Program Staffing and Required Staff Training

The Executive Director oversees the program, with support from two interns. Staff receive training in the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring guidelines as well as an introduction to the Safe Spaces Model. 

Program Evaluation

  • Monthly survey evaluations from mentors, evaluating hours and activities completed
  • Surveys following group workshops, evaluating knowledge gains
  • Monthly evaluations and regular staff follow-up with participating girls 

Program Outcomes

100% of girls enrolled in the 2011-2012 pilot Mentorship Program reported that:

  • they enjoy meeting with their mentor
  • the Mentorship Program helps them with school
  • their families approve of their participation in the Mentorship Program
  • GirlForward has allowed them to make new friends  

88% reported that meeting with a mentor has improved their self-image    

100% of participating girls are on track to graduate from high school, and all graduates since 2011 have enrolled in college.

Additional Comments

GirlForward accepts girls into the Mentorship Program in the fall and spring. We currently partner with several refugee resettlement agencies in Chicago to accept referrals for girls participating in the program, and welcome additional referrals from agency staff or community members. Girls must be in or entering high school, and must be highly motivated to participate. There is no restriction in terms of arrival date in the U.S. 

Program Contact

Blair Brettschneider

Program Dates

The program began August 2011 and continues in operation as of December 2012.