Press Releases

1998 Releases

TV Industry and Harvard Team Up to Recruit Mentors for At-Risk Youth

For immediate release: June 04, 1998 

Boston, MA--The Harvard Mentoring Project has reported major progress in mobilizing leading television networks and the Hollywood creative community for an industry-wide media campaign to recruit mentors for at-risk youth.

Jay Winsten, director of the Harvard Mentoring Project, commented, "Research has shown that a positive relationship with a mentor can steer a young person away from drugs, violence, school drop-out, and teen pregnancy. This industry-wide initiative on behalf of young people demonstrates the power of television to do good." Winsten is the Frank Stanton Director of the School's Center for Health Communication and associate dean for public and community affairs.

The Harvard Center for Health Communication is directing this initiative with funding from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The MCJ Foundation. The Center previously created the National Designated Driver Campaign and the "Squash It!" Campaign to Prevent Youth Violence. The mentoring initiative builds on the Center's relationship with ABC's "Children First" Campaign, which has promoted mentoring for three years.

The campaign's communication strategy consists of three components: advertising, entertainment programming, and news. Here are highlights of the campaign:

  • The ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC broadcast networks are producing public service announcements (PSAs) promoting mentoring that are airing frequently in prime-time. The spots are tagged with a toll-free number enabling viewers to call for information on mentoring opportunities in their local communities. The PSAs are generating 1,000 to 2,000 calls each week.
  • National and regional cable networks have committed extensive airtime to promote mentoring. National partners include: A&E, CNBC, CNN, HBO, History Channel, Lifetime, MTV, The Sci-Fi Channel, TNT, and USA. Regional partners include: Bay News 9 (Florida), Central Florida News 13, Gwinnett News and Entertainment Television (Georgia), Las Vegas One, Local News on Cable (Virginia), New England Cable News, New England Sports Network, News 12 (Connecticut, Long Island, and Westchester), Newschannel 8 (Virginia), Pittsburgh Cable News, and Six News Now (Florida).
  • This month, HBO is producing a PSA for the campaign featuring General Colin Powell, chairman of America's Promise--The Alliance for Youth. The PSA will be distributed to all television outlets by the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Cable Television Association. HBO previously produced several PSAs for the campaign that aired frequently on cable networks.
  • Hollywood producers and writers of prime-time series have written episodes with dialogue or story lines dealing with mentoring, including ER (NBC), Family Matters (ABC), High Incident (ABC), Just Shoot Me (NBC), NewsRadio (NBC), Seinfeld (NBC), Sister Sister (WB), Steve Harvey Show (WB), and Veronica's Closet (NBC).
  • Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Inc. is serving as the campaign's pro bono advertising agency. Campaign advisors include Michael Crichton, Barry Diller, Quincy Jones, and Grant Tinker.
  • Non-profit partners in the campaign include America's Promise--The Alliance for Youth, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the Mentoring Policy Council, One to One|The National Mentoring Partnership, the Points of Light Foundation, and Save the Children.

Of the estimated 15 million at-risk children in the United States, only 300,000 to 400,000 currently receive the benefits of mentoring. The largest program, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, reaches 105,000 young people--with 30,000 more on the waiting list.

Susan Moses, the Center's deputy director, commented, "Our effort is twofold: to recruit additional volunteers for existing programs and to stimulate the creation of new projects sponsored by businesses, religious groups, and civic organizations, with their members serving as mentors."

This initiative follows from the Presidents' Summit on America's Future, chaired by General Colin Powell, which was held last year in Philadelphia. The Summit launched an effort to secure commitments from corporations, non-profits, and individual citizens to help young people who are at risk of not leading healthy, productive lives.

To sustain the momentum of the Summit, General Powell is heading a new organization, America's Promise--The Alliance for Youth. The goal of America's Promise is to mobilize institutions and individuals to provide young people with five fundamental resources: an ongoing relationship with a caring adult or mentor; safe places and structured activities during non-school hours; ready access to health care; a marketable skill through effective education; and an opportunity to give back through public service.

America's Promise asked the Harvard Mentoring Project to take the lead responsibility for promoting mentoring through the national media.

Within Massachusetts, a new state-wide initiative, The Massachusetts Promise, will extend the reach of the national effort to help at-risk youth. One to One|The Mass Mentoring Partnership, which is overseeing a statewide plan to recruit mentors, has asked the Harvard Mentoring Project to help develop the media component of this initiative.

The Harvard Mentoring Project is an outgrowth of the "Squash It!" Campaign to Prevent Youth Violence. Funded by The Joyce Foundation, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. and Foundation, and the Max Factor Family Foundation, "Squash It!" includes a national media component encouraging young people to disengage from potentially violent confrontations. "Squash It!" also hosted a series of Harvard-MetLife Leadership Forums enabling young people to express themselves before audiences of influential citizens. The critical need for mentors is the most important message that emerged from the Forum discussions.

The new mentoring initiative uses media strategies that were pioneered in the Center's landmark Designated Driver Campaign, which was launched in 1988 in collaboration with major Hollywood studios and leading television networks. During four television seasons, more than 160 prime-time episodes depicted the use of designated drivers, and network-sponsored PSAs were broadcast up to 10 to 20 times per week. The New York Times estimated that the campaign generated more than $100 million each year in donated network airtime. Public relations activities further reinforced the campaign, generating extensive news coverage. By 1993, 65 million Americans had served as designated drivers, contributing to a 30 percent decline in annual fatalities from drunk driving.

The Center has employed similar strategies in the "Squash It!" Campaign. Partners have included ABC, BET, CBS, Fox, MTV; leading record companies and rap artists; the NCAA, NFL, and NBA; and Hollywood writers and producers. The "Squash It!" walk-away message has been incorporated into episodes of Beverly Hills, 90210 (Fox), Dangerous Minds (ABC), ER (NBC), Family Matters (ABC), In the House (UPN), Living Single (Fox), N.Y. Undercover (Fox), and South Central (Fox).


Over the past year, the leading broadcast networks and HBO have produced PSAs promoting mentoring that have aired frequently in prime time. The PSAs are tagged with a toll-free number enabling viewers to call for information on mentoring opportunities in their local communities. America's Promise--The Alliance for Youth is sponsoring the toll-free number (1-888-55-YOUTH) using an automated response system programmed to provide referrals to local agencies based on the caller's zip code. Currently, callers are referred to a local affiliate of The National Mentoring Partnership or one of 400 Volunteer Centers under the umbrella of the Points of Light Foundation. ABC has a separate toll-free number (1-800-914-2212) utilizing the same database of referral agencies. By mid-1998, the America's Promise and ABC referral systems will use a database of local mentoring projects being developed by Save the Children.

Following is a detailed summary of media activities to date:

  1. ABC has promoted mentoring for the past three years as the exclusive message of its network-sponsored "Children First" campaign. ABC currently broadcasts 8 to 12 non-preemptible PSAs per week, frequently in prime time. Newly produced PSAs spotlight actual mentoring relationships that have resulted from the "Children First" PSAs. ABC's commitment to mentoring is ongoing.
  2. Since September 1997, CBS has sponsored PSAs promoting mentoring that have aired in non-preemptible positions during sports programming and in prime-time. Some PSAs have been tagged with the America's Promise toll-free number. Currently, the mentoring PSAs are airing exclusively in prime time. CBS also produced a one-hour syndicated program on the involvement of the faith community in mentoring. CBS's commitment to mentoring is ongoing.
  3. From September 15 through December 31, 1997, Fox promoted mentoring as the exclusive message of its network-sponsored "Change: It Begins With You" campaign. These PSAs, featuring General Colin Powell, were broadcast several times each week, exclusively in prime time, and were tagged with the America's Promise toll-free number. Fox has made a similar commitment of airtime for the Fall of 1998.
  4. Since September 1997, NBC has promoted mentoring as one component of its network-sponsored "The More You Know" campaign. These PSAs are airing in non-preemptible positions, including in prime time. The mentoring PSAs are tagged with the America's Promise toll-free number. NBC's commitment to mentoring is ongoing.
  5. On behalf of Time Warner, HBO produced seven PSAs promoting mentoring, including several featuring individuals who are serving as mentors and the young people they are helping. These PSAs appeared on Time Warner's CNN, TNT, HBO, and cable systems. In addition, HBO made the PSAs available to all other cable networks and systems through the National Cable Television Association. The PSAs were scheduled frequently on MSNBC and Black Entertainment Television. HBO also has produced a mentoring PSA featuring Gen. Colin Powell, which will be made available to all media outlets during the summer of 1998.
  6. Harvard also has encouraged Hollywood producers and writers to depict mentoring in prime-time episodes. To date, dialogue or story lines dealing with mentoring have appeared in ER (NBC), Family Matters (ABC), High Incident (ABC), Just Shoot Me (NBC), NewsRadio (NBC), Seinfeld (NBC), Sister Sister (WB), Steve Harvey Show (WB), and Veronica's Closet (NBC).

For further information on this press release, please contact:

Center for Health Communication
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-1038
Fax: 617-731-8184