Part 3: Putting it All Together

The first two posts in our vegan mentoring series provided an introduction to mentoring and profiled several successful programs. It’s clear from our exploration that many people who are receptive to veganism benefit from one-on-one guidance and support. So, let’s now put all our learning together and look at some guidelines, tips, and resources for starting a successful program in your community!

STEPS FOR STARTING A MENTOR PROGRAM

1) Learn about existing mentor programs. As you familiarize yourself with existing mentor programs, you can get a better sense of what’s involved, understand the options for organizing a program, and have a network of support available.

2) Define your program. Mentoring doesn’t need to be complex. Informally mentoring a family member, friend, or coworker interested in veganism is a great way to get started. Alternatively, you may be able to connect with someone via Facebook, at an outreach event, or in person elsewhere and offer your support. If you’re interested in initiating a formal program, more planning and advertising are necessary. In considering the kind of program you’d like to develop, ask yourself the following questions to help organize your thoughts:

  1. Do you want the program to be structured around a time-limited pledge or will it be ongoing?
  2. Will you:
    • Develop a custom menu of various events, programs, and workshops to support matches (e.g., nutrition workshops, cooking demos, film screenings, potlucks, restaurant outings, field trips, discussion groups, book clubs, and/or market tours)?
    • Tap into already existing programs to support matches?
    • Provide extensive suggestions and guidelines to mentors?
    • Create a program based on a combination of any or all of the above?
  3. Will mentors need to meet certain requirements?
  4. Will mentors and mentees be required to attend certain programs or events?
  5. How will mentors be supported by the program organizer(s)?

3) Reach out for support. Once you’ve decided on the kind of program you’d like to initiate, reach out to other mentor programs with any specific questions. If you aren’t already affiliated with an organization, you may want to contact a local group (Meetup.com is a great resource) about your idea to see if a partner can help get the program off the ground. If you wish to structure your program around a vegan pledge, consider contacting the Peace Advocacy Network. They have a successful program model, offer extensive materials, provide guidance, and are looking to expand the pledge to other cities.

4) Plan and organize the program. Meet with one or more volunteers or staff to discuss how the program will work. Create a program outline with all of the agreed upon policies so you can have everything in writing to use as a reference. This document will also help you develop marketing materials and communicate with volunteer mentors. If events and workshops need to be planned to support a monthly pledge or ongoing mentor program, develop a calendar of events and an action plan.

5) Develop program materials. You’ll need mentor and mentee application forms. If you are conducting a vegan pledge, you’ll also want to have a vegan pledge sign up form. See the Resources section below for samples. We also recommend developing evaluation forms for mentees so you can gauge the success of the program.

6) Create outreach materials. To attract mentors and mentees, consider creating various tools such as a flyer, brochure, website, Meetup.com group, or a Facebook page that advertises the program.

7) Spread the word. Advertise the mentor program to the vegan community and recruit mentors/ other volunteers to support the program via social media platforms, Meetup.com, meetings, email, local organizations, etc.

8) Recruit mentees. Conduct outreach to potential mentees through the above publicity suggestions, at events, and through other advertising strategies.

9) Seek funding to support the program. Consider applying to VegFund’s Merit Awards Program for assistance with specific costs.

MENTORING GUIDELINES & TIPS

There are numerous ways a vegan mentor, also referred to as a coach or buddy, can provide meaningful guidance to someone interested in vegan living. Some key mentoring principles to keep in mind are:

1) Begin wherever someone is on the vegan journey. If a person is not participating in a vegan pledge and is initially only willing to give up meat but not dairy, focus on helping him or her do that. As the person meets with success and has a positive experience, he or she will typically become more receptive to expanding and sustaining changes in their food choices.

2) Offer general support and resources. As a mentor, your role is to answer questions as they arise, point your mentee toward online and community resources as needed, inform your mentee about relevant events that may be of interest, and be there consistently for guidance and to acknowledge success.

3) Get to know your mentee. In order to connect with your match, it’s critical that you take some time to understand their interests. Does your match like to read, cook, or spend time on the computer? Once you understand their interests, you can suggest activities to do together or encourage your mentee to pursue independently. For example, if your mentee likes to cook, suggest one or two cookbooks they may wish to purchase or check out at the library. If he or she enjoys spending time on the computer, you can share some popular vegan blogs, recipe sites, chat forums, or cooking videos. VegFund’s VegVids has an expansive video library that might appeal to your match.

4) Respect preferences and boundaries. Your mentee will most likely have preferences about the kind of support they want and how they wish to connect. It’s important to respect these boundaries. For example, if your mentee loves to go out to eat but doesn’t like big crowds, be on the lookout for smaller vegan dining out gatherings or intimate potlucks. It’s always best to discuss your mentee’s preferred method of communication and your availability so that your mentee can have realistic expectations for your support. If your mentee prefers to ask questions or share concerns via email, then respect that and don’t call him or her on the phone to check in regularly. On the other hand, your mentee may like to talk on the phone rather than connect via the computer if he or she has a question.

5) Respond appropriately to specific challenges and concerns. Perhaps your mentee is overwhelmed by animal suffering and doesn’t understand why his or her family doesn’t care. Maybe your mentee tried a vegan meat product for the first time, didn’t like it, and now feels discouraged. Another person may be worried about not being able to have favorite foods any longer. And another may not know their way around a kitchen and gets intimidated by the thought of cooking. There are various ways a mentor can support each of these challenges and we encourage you to consider the next section for options.

SPECIFIC WAYS TO SUPPORT YOUR MENTEE:

As you remain cognizant of the principles above as well as your mentee’s schedule, availability, interests, and level of preferred engagement, there are many additional ways to provide support. Whether you are mentoring informally or plan to develop a formal program, consider the following:

  • Meet with your mentee in person to discuss their goal, the kind of support they are looking for, what you can offer, and develop an initial plan for working together. It’s a good idea to plan something (market tour and shopping, restaurant outing, etc.) at this first meeting to get your mentee started.
  • Share your own journey toward vegan living to help build a connection. Discuss the benefits and any challenges that you faced and how you coped.
  • Establish a scheduled check-in weekly/monthly by phone, email, or in person.
  • For a mentee who doesn’t enjoy cooking, focus your support on vegan friendly dining out options, a grocery tour with a focus on convenience foods, and simple meals to prepare at home with ready-made products.
  • Recommend one new product a week for him or her to try with some easy preparation suggestions (e.g., coconut milk ice cream, Vegenaise-based dip, Daiya cheese pizza, etc.).
  • Meet at the market to show your mentee products and go on a market tour.
  • Join other mentors and mentees for available support and discussion circles. If none exist and there’s an interest, establish one with other active matches.
  • Read an animal rights related book and discuss chapters or join a vegan book club.
  • Share an activity together that you both enjoy like walking, a trip to a museum, etc. as an opportunity to discuss how things are going.
  • Watch an animal rights related film together and talk about it.
  • Invite your mentee to vegan Meetup or local organizational activities, restaurant outings, vegan nutrition workshops, etc.
  • Help your mentee veganize favorite recipes or cook together to discover new foods.
  • Attend a vegan food festival or potluck together.
  • Visit or volunteer at an animal sanctuary.

RESOURCES TO GET YOU STARTED

1) Sample Forms and Materials 

2) Advertising

3) Funding

4) Existing Mentor Programs

We hope you are now inspired to think about the possibilities for vegan mentoring in your community and have the tools to get started. We look forward to hearing about your experiences and wish you much success!

Part 2: A Closer Look at Vegan Mentor Programs

There’s a growing recognition of the value of vegan mentor programs. As a result, a number of great programs are being established. From college campuses to community wide initiatives, there are a variety of ways to plan and structure a successful mentor program. While some programs simply ask that volunteer mentors are vegan, have a basic knowledge of veganism, and are interested in taking the time to help new and aspiring vegans, others have more specific requirements. To give you an idea of what’s possible, let’s take a look at some thriving programs from around the world.

1. Penn Vegan Society’s Vegan Mentor Program

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Unique features: University-based and open to all students, faculty, and staff.

Program duration: Ongoing.

Advice from the members: Always have vegan food at events. It’s a great opportunity to show people how delicious and nutritious vegan food can be. It’s also good to have familiar snacks available that people do not realize are vegan to show that vegans are not deprived or restricted. One of the most frequently asked questions they receive is, “What do vegans eat?”

Website: http://www.pennveg.com/vegan-mentor-program/

 At the University of Pennsylvania, the Penn Vegan Society formed the Vegan Mentor Program in response to students’ growing frustration with the dining hall food and campus fast food options. Students were seeking healthier foods and wanted to incorporate plant-based cuisine into their diets. To participate in the mentor program, students are asked to fill out a simple form stating their individualized goals such as how long they wish to adhere to a vegan diet, reasons why they want to become vegan, and preferences on communication via email, Facebook, etc. The application is then reviewed and the mentee is matched up with a compatible personal mentor. Once enrolled in the program, each mentee also receives a gift basket filled with samples of vegan products and educational literature. VegFund supports this initiative through the Merit Awards Program by funding the provision of these educational gift baskets.

The Penn Society Vegan Mentor Program is open to all staff, faculty, and students on campus. There is no training or orientation provided to volunteer mentors at this time as their general knowledge of veganism seems to be adequate preparation for working with a mentee. In regards to the time commitment for mentors, Barbara Jun of the Penn Vegan Society explains, “It’s dependent on how much the mentee wants to get out of the program. It can be as little as an hour a week where mentors and mentees just exchange emails about questions, to much more than that where mentors take mentees grocery shopping, teach them how to cook, or eat out with them.”

Many mentor/mentee relationships are so successful that participants frequently refer friends. The University of Pennsylvania has become very receptive to the mentoring initiative and a number of students who are interested in improving their diet are referred to the Penn Vegan Society from Student Health Services. Regarding the impact of the program, Barbara Jun says, “Because of the success of our program, an increasing number of people are becoming interested in switching to a plant-based diet. More people want to be educated about veganism and the issues surrounding it.”

2. London Vegan Campaigns’ London Vegan Pledge

Location: London, England.

Unique features: Extensive kick-off/ closing day events and activities for matches such as guest speakers, film screenings, and cooking demos.

Program duration: One month annually (no set date).

Advice from the members: Have “buddies” meet and get to know their matches before a pledge begins.

Website: http://www.vegancampaigns.org.uk/pledge.html

Moving across the Atlantic Ocean to England, the volunteer-based organization, London Vegan Campaigns, organizes a free, annual London Vegan Pledge event where vegan buddies are matched with pledgers for a month. In September of this year, seventy-five aspiring vegans participated in what they consider their most successful pledge year yet! This mentor program incorporates formal group activities as well as individualized one-on-one support.

Robb Masters of London Vegan Campaigns explains how integral the buddies are to the program:

“We have two full-day events, one at the beginning and one at the end of the month. For both of these events, each “buddy” mentors a group of around 10 “pledgers,” running a discussion with them on the expected challenges of the month, for example, and generally coordinating their activities (cooking demos, a film, lunch, talks by guest speakers, etc.). Between these workshops, the buddies send their pledgers weekly emails on related topics and are on hand by phone or email to answer any questions that they have. This year, we’re also thinking of allocating pledgers to buddies earlier, so they can provide some support before the first meeting. We usually have three optional events between the two workshops as well including a budget meal out to show that vegan food needn’t be expensive, a more upmarket meal out to show how inventive it can be, and a trip to an animal sanctuary as most people have never met the animals that end up on their plates.”

London Vegan Campaigns carefully compiles all the data on the pledge participants and has each pledger evaluate the program. This allows them to fully understand the program’s success and provides information for improving future events. Based on evaluations for the 2012 event, which marks the fifth London Vegan Pledge, 70% are planning to stay vegan. In addition, ten friends and relatives of pledgers also went vegan for the month without attending any meetings. The remaining pledgers stated that they plan to continue transitioning to a vegan diet or will reduce the animal products they consume. To learn more, check out the 2012 report that includes a more in-depth look at the pledge event outcomes, data on participants, and information on the kickoff and final gatherings.

3. Open the Cages Alliance’s Vegan Living Program

Location: Baltimore, Maryland.

Unique features: Various comprehensive activities scheduled for matches including five core required gatherings and seven optional workshops/cooking demos. A highlight for many is a field trip to an animal sanctuary.

Program duration: One month annually in the spring.

Advice from the members: Contact the Peace Advocacy Network as they offer great resources and support to people who wish to start vegan pledge and mentor programs in their own community. Open the Cages Alliance also encourages anyone to contact them about their Vegan Living Program and use their materials. ”We’re thrilled to speak with other grassroots activists who wish to start something like this in their own community.”

Website: http://www.openthecages.org/vlp/index.html

This past spring marked the second year of The Vegan Living Program, an initiative that’s also modeled around a monthly pledge. Twenty coaches worked with almost thirty mentees. The program requires that volunteer coaches have been vegan for at least one year and must attend an orientation meeting before working with a mentee. In addition, coaches need to participate in five core sessions with their mentee that include presentations on vegan living and nutrition and a field trip to an animal sanctuary. Between the weekly gatherings, the coach works individually with his or her mentee, staying in touch in person, on the phone, or through email. One common activity is to go shopping and buy ingredients to veganize a favorite recipe.

According to Erin Marcus, one of the directors at Open the Cages Alliance, The Vegan Living Program has been incredibly successful as many mentees continue to remain involved in events after the program has finished. Some have even gone on to become coaches. While they are planning to do more follow up and tracking of participants for the 2013 Vegan Living Program, she states, “It has been the most successful community building project we’ve done. For us it was the most rewarding effort we’ve carried out as Open the Cages Alliance. It’s our hope that every city has a grassroots program like this.”

Jamie Cohen, one of the mentors in the program who has also taught a workshop for pledgers on easy vegan ingredients, echoes Erin’s sentiments, “This program to me should exist in every city and town in America. The materials they’ve developed are so comprehensive, friendly, informative, simple, and wonderful. Last year, I was set up with someone who had just gone vegetarian and wanted to go vegan. It was so great to have a conversation with her and talk about our experiences. We’re still in touch.” To attract program participants, Jamie explains that Open the Cages has developed very attractive postcards that are posted on Facebook and other social media platforms. They are also distributed at conferences, outreach events, restaurants, and various community venues.

4. Animal Rights Coalition’s Vegan University; Find The Vegan You At Vegan U

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Unique features: Many events and gatherings available for mentors and mentees including Community Circle discussion groups, market tours, and workshops.

Program duration: Ongoing.

Advice from the members: Utilize vegan Meetups as a way to advertise your mentor program and connect with others who are interested in mentoring.

Website: http://animalrightscoalition.com/programs/veganuniversity/

Started almost two years ago, the Vegan University; Find The Vegan You At Vegan U incorporates vegan mentoring as part of a larger initiative with various support components. Anyone interested in being matched with a mentor can fill out an application online, at an outreach event, or at their office. A binder featuring bios on all the volunteer mentors is available for people to look through and choose a mentor that feels like a good match. Dallas Rising, the Program Director, explains that in their mentor program, “Veganism is not framed as a diet but as a value system and a set of beliefs that resists abuses of power.”

Before accepting a mentor into the program, the staff takes the time to get to know the person to make sure he or she will be able to reflect the organization’s core beliefs and values. They also require that prospective mentors have been involved in the group in some way that allows them to gauge how responsible they are and whether they can take on the responsibilities of mentoring. Once accepted into the program and matched, mentors are required to check their email twice a day, give out a home phone number, and meet their mentee in person.

Currently, Vegan University has seven active mentors. Once a mentor is matched, he or she typically offers to first go grocery shopping with the mentee. Mentors also ask their matches about their favorite foods or dishes they enjoy that they would like to veganize. Matches will often go out to eat, get together to cook, and some even go hiking to connect and discuss being vegan. In addition, mentors invite mentees to events like Thanksgiving potlucks, dinner outings, and other social gatherings. These gatherings help new vegans learn from others, feel included, and provide opportunities to socialize with other vegans. As part of Vegan University, there are also periodic market tours, workshops on transitioning towards vegan living, and Community Circle discussion groups on various relevant topics available for mentees to attend. Mentees are not required to attend any particular events or participate at any particular level. Dallas explains that the mentor program structure is designed to be flexible and allow people the opportunity to participate where they feel comfortable and within their own time frame.

As the mentors in the program are very invested and passionate about helping support aspiring vegans, the biggest challenge they face is the discouragement and sense of failure that occurs when mentees don’t follow through or seek out their support. Dallas, who checks in with mentors monthly, explains that 40% of the people that initially sign up for a mentor don’t pursue it and the reasons typically have nothing to do with the mentor. The level of engagement among mentees is quite wide ranging from those who only seek occasional email support to those who get actively involved in outreach events. Dallas comments, “It’s been amazing…There’s a constant trickle of people who are interested in this, and this is who we want to support.”

While there are other active vegan mentor initiatives to explore, we hope that taking a peek at these programs has demonstrated their diversity and offered ideas for implementing a mentoring program in your community.

In our final blog on mentoring, we’ll provide additional ideas, general tips, and guidelines. Stay tuned!

Part 1: The Value of Vegan Mentoring Programs

What happens after someone attends a Pay Per View event, reads a starter guide, or samples vegan food at a local festival and becomes receptive to veganism? Do they forge on and adopt a vegan lifestyle, or do they return to their former non-vegan ways? One powerful approach to helping new vegans is mentor programs, which offer personalized guidance and support. They can help individuals confront and overcome obstacles that may otherwise disconnect them from their desire and motivation to stay vegan. Let’s take an in-depth look at the benefits of mentoring, explore some of the existing programs, and review how you can start your own vegan mentor program.

The film Vegucated, which follows three participants willing to try veganism and be mentored for six weeks, is a wonderful testament to the value and impact of mentoring. New vegans often need basic guidance to help them figure out what they will eat at home and out in the community. In addition, many aspiring vegans seek guidance on how to handle family events and how to have conversations with friends or family. Vegan mentor programs have many positive attributes and benefits:

  • Increase the likelihood of aspiring vegans to reach their goal, thereby increasing the overall success of the vegan movement.
  • Provide mentees access to a support system during critical stages of their transition toward veganism.
  • Give mentees individualized guidance based on their needs and lifestyle.
  • Offer mentees a safe and supportive outlet for discussing questions, concerns, and challenges.
  • Provide mentees tools, resources, and encouragement to sustain their motivation and celebrate successes.
  • Give mentors an opportunity to utilize their knowledge, experience, communication skills, and passion in a powerful way.

If you wish to become a mentor or start your own program, we encourage you to look into the various established vegan mentor programs below to learn what’s involved and how they are structured. If you live near one and wish to get involved, contact them to discuss your interest or fill out an application form as requested on some of the websites.

London Vegan Pledge through London Vegan Campaigns (London, England)

Mentor Me Vegan Mentor Program through endXmeat (Jacksonville, Florida)

Rent a Vegan Buddy through Animal Friends Croatia (Zagreb, Croatia)

Vegan Buddies Program through Northwest Animal Rights Network (Seattle, Washington)

Vegan Living Program through Open the Cages Alliance (Baltimore, Maryland)

Vegan Mentor Program through Animal Rights Advocates Inc. (Mount Lawley, Australia)

Veggie Mentor Program through Bay Area Veg Society (San Francisco, California)

Vegan Mentor Program through the Penn Vegan Society (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Vegan Pledge Program through The Vegan Society (Birmingham, United Kingdom)

Vegan University through Animal Rights Coalition (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

If there isn’t a vegan mentor program in your community, consider starting your own program. Here are a few general steps to help you get started:

  • Once you have explored the existing mentor programs listed above, reach out to them with any questions. It may be helpful to ask to speak to a few mentors directly to get tips, learn about challenges, and get a better sense of the experience.
  • Spread the word about your mentor program to the vegan community and recruit mentors via Facebook, email, local organizations, etc.
  • Meet with volunteer mentors to discuss how the program will work. Discuss expectations, mentor roles, and best practices.
  • Develop a flyer, brochure, website, or Facebook page that advertises the program.
  • Recruit mentees at vegan outreach events and through other advertising strategies, through an application / sign up form (example from NARN) or vegan pledge form (DOC).

Consider applying to VegFund for support of your mentoring initiative through our grant programs. Some of the potential program elements we fund include vegan cooking classes, educational gift baskets for mentees, film screenings, guest speakers, and Meetup.com fees.

There are many forms of activism, and mentoring is an engaging strategy that expands our outreach tactics and efficacy. One aspiring vegan participant who completed the London Vegan Pledge program remarked about her experience, “It’s been life changing!”

As we know, new people who commit to vegan living will impact others around them, and the positive impact will continue to grow and multiply.

In our next blog, we’ll take a closer look at some of the active vegan mentor programs.