Resettled refugee students learning English as a Second Language (ESL) face many challenges acquiring proficiency in written and spoken English.

Upon arrival in the United States students who have had limited academic instruction in their native country are often placed in school systems without the necessary support. Unrealistic academic expectations are compounded by a gap in family support due to language, cultural, and educational barriers. Magnifying these challenges are the cultural and social hurdles students come across adjusting to life in the United States. In the spring of 2010, in response to a needs assessment of refugee students and their families, The Refugee Response initiated its Youth Mentoring Program. In the fall of 2020, The Refugee Response adapted this program to meet additional educational needs generated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The goal of the Youth Mentoring Program is to connect refugee students with volunteer mentors in order to help students: achieve their own academic, language and social-emotional goals, nurture a growth mindset, and build confidence in their skills, abilities and identities. Youth mentors are academic tutors, role models and friendly community connections. The Refugee Response believes these connections significantly bolster student development. The relationships between students and mentors not only result in increased confidence in English language skills but also increased comfort in new communities. 


We are expanding and accepting volunteers.
Complete our online application to express your interest and receive a followup from our staff.

Teacher Helping Student

Our mentors provide individualized attention where it's needed most.

The Refugee Response Youth Mentoring Program provides one-on-one mentoring to refugee students in Cleveland, Ohio. The Refugee Response pairs each refugee student with a virtual volunteer mentor to provide meaningful academic support to their student student twice per week via Zoom. Students will also have access to The Refugee Response’s “Learning Lab” to receive extra support from volunteer mentors in person. Students receive a minimum of eighty minutes per week of personalized engagement after school through these various forms of support over the course of two academic years before completing the program. ​The program will serve 85 students this year in partnership with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

Mentors work closely with students to strengthen basic literacy and math skills, develop positive habits and attitudes, and advocate for student success between school and home. Mentors spend time developing a relationship with the student to better understand their individual needs and priorities for support, and submit monthly reflections on students’ progress.

The Refugee Response also works closely at the family level, assigning a Community Liaison to each of the client households. Liaisons coordinate communication between families, mentors, schools and wraparound service providers. In addition to serving youth, the program strives to strengthen parent’s roles as partners in their children’s learning through direct guided practice and the development of informational content in culturally and linguistically accessible ways. In today’s virtual learning environment, these liaisons also support client families to troubleshoot challenges around online connectivity and access to the online learning portal throughout the academic year.




*Mentor Volunteer
commitment is 1 year

Over 50


1-3 hours


The benefits to participating in the Youth Mentoring program are innumerable. 

Refugee students gain confidence academically and socially. Volunteer mentors form lasting relationships with refugee students, and get a window into the cultural practices and rich customs of families from countries as far as Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Syria, and others. Our communities become interconnected through cross-cultural understanding and a sense of social responsibility. The ultimate benefit of this program is that it provides refugee students with the much needed additional instruction time and the direct one-on-one support that is so critical to personal and academic development.


Read on to learn more about our mentors and students.

Gradi Dengobe at Parent Teacher Conferen

come from all over the globe and speak over 15 different languages combined.

Many of the refugee families we work with have crossed many borders: fleeing their country of origin as a teenager, starting a family of their own in the refugee camps of a neighboring country, and finding resettlement in a place called Cleveland, Ohio a decade or more after leaving home. Many of the children enrolled in our program have never seen their parents' homeland, though their Cleveland homes are alive with the sounds and smells of another place. These students are eager to understand their English speaking peers, to experience success at school, to make friends, and to simply fit in. Their journey forward continues here in Cleveland.

The Youth Mentoring Program supports children in grades Kindergarten through 8, often enrolling multiple siblings within a single family. Students are referred to Youth Mentoring services annually through existing client and community connections at the Refugee Response, as well as through the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Multilingual Multicultural Education Office.


are business managers, chemists, school teachers, nurses, bartenders, retirees, college students, and rocket scientists.

All share a commitment to making a difference in the life of a young person by giving a piece of their time every week to build a connection that transcends boundaries of age, language, and culture.

Volunteers undergo screening and receive training and support from Refugee Response staff before and throughout their mentoring assignment. Mentors have the opportunity to connect with one another at various special events and socials hosted by The Refugee Response over the course of the year. Mentors serving children in the same family often maintain a connection with one another to share tips, family updates and provide social and emotional support. As a youth mentor, you will join a group of fearlessly dedicated volunteers working to make Cleveland a better place for all.