2017 Innovative Projects 3rd Place – The Mentor Approach: Building Community, Snohomish Cty, WA

“My mentor was crucial to my learning experience: she was encouraging, helpful and made me feel a part of a process that I, at first, found a little intimidating. She brought extra material to class and always made sure we had the tools we needed. A truly helpful person.”–Intern “She wasn’t an instructor, but a resource if we needed her.” — Intern

Where We Started: We realized that our MG retention rate was low, particularly after the second-year commitment was met. Interns expressed concern during class and volunteer time:  They had challenges understanding the content, program requirements and where they fit in with the program.

“We had the opportunity to get to know our classmates over a period of three months, as well as some veterans. Making connections is what builds community.”–Intern “Our mentor was an excellent help in explaining things that weren’t clear, helping in hands-on sessions and was available both at the table and on email.” –Intern

Our Solution: We developed a program to use our most valuable resource, our veteran MGs. During the twelve-week training course, each mentor was responsible for three to four students.  They also followed their students’ progress through their first year of volunteer service.  We held training sessions for the mentors on their responsibilities: communicating weekly, monitoring their students’ progress and mastery of course content, leading morning table-talk sessions, and acting as the liaison between students and class coordinator. Each mentor developed his/her own method tailored to their students’ needs.


“Always fun to see my mentor and table mates at the demonstration gardens!”—Intern “I had been through Master Gardener training in another state previously and we only met with our mentor a couple of times and they didn’t communicate with us much during the training. This was much more welcoming.”–Intern/Transfer MG “Each intern brought their own interests, questions and experience to discuss which makes the MG training a true exchange of learning.” —Mentor

Results: We experienced a significant jump in program retention. All students completed their minimum first-year requirements and in fact, many earned their hundred-hour pin. Many interns and veterans have requested to become mentors in the future.  Our students graduated knowing more veteran MGs, friendships blossomed and people found their niche.  Several unplanned benefits:  Mentors appreciated the refresher course, the community developed in class extended to the entire Master Gardener community and the Snohomish County Master Gardener Foundation membership grew significantly.  All of this was done with minimal cost.

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