3Degrees Mentoring

What if every kindergartener in poverty had a caring, well-trained mentor committed to walking with them through high school graduation?

Photo of Emily Schafer
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Fostering and then mentoring teenage girls showed our founder the impact of a consistent, caring presence in the life of a traumatized child. Seeing the result of 8 years of faithfulness inspired her to dream for more. She and her girls would often imagine the increased impact if they had met at a much younger age. Research supports their hunch by showing that neuroplasticity is greatest (other than in utero and infancy) during the preschool years. Witnessing their growth inspires our project.


www.3degreesmentoring.org (under construction, but contains our video that wouldn't upload)

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • South Carolina

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • South Carolina

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]


Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

We have partnered with our local community indicators project (strategicspartanburg.org) and the local university (Child Protection Training Center of USC Upstate) to address specific and pressing needs for our city: social environment and education. Eight out of ten Kindergarten and first grade students at our partner school test below grade level. The students live in the neighborhoods with the highest poverty and crime rates in the city.

3Degrees Mentoring is committed to finding creative solutions that improve the academic, as well as socioemotional, lives of children in poverty. We know that generational poverty and lack of positive, adult interaction are major hindrances to student success. Research has shown that one caring, committed adult relationship can improve a student's depression symptoms, academic performance, self-worth, school attendance, peer relations, and decision making. With a long term investment, a mentor can show a child the way out of poverty.

Nearly thirty percent of children in Spartanburg are in poverty. A large number of them a live in some of our city's most high crime neighborhoods. Daily, these kids are battling the chronic stress and chaos of poverty. It affects their development on every level. The local school's academic performance reflects this. Out of the 639 schools in South Carolina, it ranked 633rd, in the bottom 1%. On the state report card, the school scored a 36% and was found to be at-risk, the worst possible outcome. 

Eight out of ten first graders at this partner school are unable to meet grade level standards. The principal has asked us to find mentors for them. We take this charge very seriously. Our mentors receive extensive training in evidence-based methods designed to improve reading and math skills, executive function, self-regulation, and motor skills. Though each mentoring relationship starts with a two year commitment, we seek as a primary goal to encourage and support the matches to continue throughout the student's academic career.

The 3Degrees mentoring model is innovative: We focus on matching children under 8 years old with mentors because the greatest strides in brain development happen during this stage. We also compound the educational and social impact by recruiting whole families into the mentoring program when possible, thus encouraging activities that are not only one on one, but that incorporate pictures of family interaction, marriage, peer group play, and after school homework time into the achiever's experience. Finally, we stay up to date with the most current research and educate our mentors on ways to incorporate it. For example, we teach the vital concepts of agency (or self-determination) and growth-mindset; we integrate the arts with many events and use physical activity as a way to connect.

First, children are nominated by their teachers as needing additional support, then parents must agree to have their children participate. Over the summer, the nominated students (we refer to them as achievers) are enrolled in our fun and free enrichment camp. There they gain an understanding our core values, engage in activities that stimulate brain development, practice social skills and reading, and have memorable experiences that can spark a dream in their heart (Cirque du Soleil, a working farm, learning and participating in photography and storytelling, yoga, cooking and nutrition class, etc.). During this time, mentors are recruited, screened and thoroughly trained on topics previously mentioned (realities of poverty and development, trauma-informed mentoring, communication and asset-based thinking, boundaries, systemic racism, etc.). Mentors and achievers are then matched at a launch party where they get to know each other and begin what we hope will be a life changing friendship for both of them.

We work hard as an organization to known for striving for truth and equality. We seek to change the stereotypical notion that folks struggling with poverty are lacking competence or character. We educate the community as often as possible on asset-based perspective, racism and white privilege, effects of trauma, etc. And we make sure our achievers know that they are STRONG, VALUABLE, capable of LEARNING, and that they DON'T QUIT.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

We enroll children from one of our highest poverty and crime neighborhoods in a summer enrichment camp. These rising 1st and 2nd graders are nominated by teachers or school administration. Parents confirmed interest and attendance. The children then have a summer filled with engaging activities and relationships. They attend a nutrition and cooking class, visit a working farm, create in an art studio, take photos with a local photographer, attend Cirque du Soleil, interact with reptiles at the science center, explore on nature trails, conduct chemistry experiments, read and tell stories, take a kid yoga class and constantly be reminded of their strength and value: #towardwholeness. They are matched with a well-trained mentor in the fall.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

We are just beginning to match mentors with achievers (our name for mentees). So far, we have 4 matches in our pilot group. The achievers LOVE getting one on one attention from their mentors. They report feeling special and looking forward to their time together. Parents (mostly single mothers with multiple children) are grateful to have more adults on their team who are supporting and encouraging their child. The children participating in our enrichment camp this summer will be the next group of achievers matched. We are actively recruiting and training mentors with our thorough and evidence-based curriculum. It includes topics such as: how poverty affects development, systemic racism and inequality, core values that help children succeed (agency, belonging, confidence, determination), 'playing with purpose' (activities designed to increase a child's social and academic success), etc.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $50k - $100k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We have community partners who have committed to 3 years of ongoing support. This allowed us to do the research and development necessary to create a program that is evidence-based and using best practices. Now that we have begun our pilot group and summer enrichment camp, we are applying for grants and will have our first major fundraising campaign in the fall. As word gets around about our work, we are gaining community support and momentum.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Our innovations in the field of mentoring: 1. We match children younger than any other organization (4-8yrs). This is beneficial because it allows us to pour positive core values in early and help establish a love of learning. 2. We require more commitment from our mentors up front. They must agree to at least 2 years of weekly meetings with their achievers. After 2 years, we intend for the friendship to last through graduation. 3. We provide and require evidence-based, preservice training. Mentors receive at least 8 hours of training before a match and regular, ongoing support throughout.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

All of the examples you provided are terrific. Trauma-informed mentoring is one of the new trajectories of mentoring and we have incorporated it into our training. I believe this knowledge is beneficial for anyone working in a field that touches children (educators, clergy, childcare, healthcare, etc.) because it provides a new level of awareness for what is going on inside the mind/body/emotions of a child. Empathy ought to be the driving force behind all our interactions. This is exciting to me as a therapist because until we are healed of our relational wounds, we cannot be whole or well.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Other

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

A friend who works at Mary Black Foundation. She is a mentor through 3Degrees and wants to see more children impacted.
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Attachments (2)

Camp flyer.pages

This is the flyer for our summer enrichment camp


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jessie Mandle

Great program! Best of luck as it grows! Would love to hear more stories or examples from the achiever/mentor relationships!

Photo of Emily Schafer

Thanks, Jessie! A recent story from an Achiever match:
First grade achiever, Z, was taken to a local state park. She was frozen in awe looking at the large pond. She had never seen one. At the 3Degrees pool party, she came with trepidation and no experience in the water. By the end of our 3 hours together, she was jumping in unassisted and very proud of her accomplishment. Her mentor has had to persevere to keep connection with her. Her family's phone has been shut off and number changed several times in a few short months. Both mentor and achiever are being transformed by the experience.

Photo of Jessie Mandle

Thanks, Emily Schafer  :) It's wonderful to hear how both mentors and achievers are benefiting from the relationship and experience