Blog Post

The Power of Relationships: How This Pathways to Progress Partner Is Helping Youth Meet Their Aspirations

Citi volunteer Farjana with her mentee Rosemary

The Citi Foundation, one of iMentor's largest corporate partners, is showcasing iMentor as part of National Mentoring Month. iMentor CEO Mike O'Brien writes on the Citigroup blog about our model of mentoring for college success and tells the story of Citi mentor Farjana and her mentee Rosemary.

For nearly 20 years, iMentor has built mentoring relationships between working professionals and high school students. We know that for our students—who are often the first in their families to attend college—being provided with long-term, committed support through high school and college can have a profound impact on their success in school and beyond. We also recognize the deep impact these relationships has on the professionals who dedicate their time to mentoring.

For nearly a decade, the Citi Foundation has partnered with iMentor to empower students to graduate from high school, succeed in college, and gain the skills necessary to achieving their highest career aspirations. In 2017, the Citi Foundation announced its Pathways to Progress initiative, which committed it to invest $100 million in programs globally to address persistent youth unemployment and impact the lives of 500,000 youth by 2020. To date, 210,000 young people have been mentored through Pathways for Progress in partnership with organizations including Mentor.

iMentor matches every student in a participating school with a college-educated mentor who commits to take part in the program for a minimum of three years. We provide a best-in-class curriculum and staff support to help these relationships succeed.

As both a philanthropic and volunteer engagement partner, the Citi Foundation has helped us grow and evolve as an organization. Citi volunteers have also helped empower first-generation college students nationwide. Today, more than 170 Citi mentors working with and counselling iMentor students in New York, Chicago and the Bay Area. These volunteers include Citi colleagues like Farjana Rohman, a New Yorker who volunteered as a mentor because she wished she had been more prepared for the non-academic skills that college demanded, and wanted to give back by sharing her knowledge and experience.

Farjana was matched with Rosemary, a sophomore in Manhattan, who was struggling academically and not on track to graduate high school. The pair didn’t click right away, but over time they discovered common interests—starting with a particular unnamed Canadian pop star—and over time, Rosemary began to open up. Rosemary aspired to be a chef and didn’t think college was necessary to achieve this goal. Farjana was the first adult to tell Rosemary that college would give her the management and math skills she would need to make her dream a reality. With Farjana’s support, as well as tutoring, summer school, and a lot of hard work, Rosemary graduated high school on time and enrolled in a culinary arts college program. Citi mentors like Farjana are building authentic relationships across differences in age, gender and economic and social backgrounds. We know these relationships are strong because 98 percent of students surveyed report that they trust their mentors, and 89 percent say they go to their mentors with problems. These relationships challenge mentors to increase empathy and understanding.  They help make issues of equity personal and inspire a life-long passion for rebalancing the odds for first-generation college students. These relationships remind us that we are at our best when we leverage diverse backgrounds, unique contributions, and many perspectives.

As one of iMentor’s largest corporate partners, the Citi Foundation and Citi mentors play a vital role in our students’ long-term success. And the commitment that the Citi Foundation and Citi mentors have made has resulted in extraordinary outcomes for our students. Thanks to partners like the Citi Foundation, our mentees are enrolling in college on-time at a higher rate than national averages (73 percent vs 54 percent) and are graduating within six years at higher rates than low-income students nationally (45 percent vs 25 percent).  

After creating and supporting nearly 30,000 relationships between mentors and mentees in the last 20 years, iMentor has embarked on a plan to bring our work to another 30,000 students over the next five years. To help close the college completion gap, we will scale our program to reach first-generation college-goers in 33 communities across the country.

What propels us forward each day is the belief that success for every student is within reach. Our optimism is rooted in the young people we serve; we are inspired by their ambition and their sense of urgency. And we are grateful to be part of an inspiring community—10,000 people strong this year, made up of mentors like Farjana—who are stepping up to support them.