Press Releases

1998 Releases

33 TV Networks Join National Campaign to Recruit Mentors for At-Risk Youth

For immediate release: June 22, 1998 

Boston, MA--General Colin Powell, Chairman of America's Promise/The Alliance for Youth, is featured in a television public service announcement (PSA) released this week by the Harvard Mentoring Project, a national media campaign conducted in partnership with leading television networks and the Hollywood creative community to recruit mentors for at-risk youth. The PSA was produced for the campaign by HBO.

Media partners in this industry-wide campaign include five broadcast networks, 28 cable networks, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the National Cable Television Association (NCTA), and leading Hollywood executives, writers, and producers.

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." Dr. 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 Harvard Alcohol Project--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.

Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Inc., has agreed to serve as the pro bono advertising agency for this national multi-media campaign.

The campaign's communication strategy consists of three components: advertising, entertainment programming, and news. Highlights of the campaign include:

  • 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.
  • UPN and national and regional cable networks have committed to priority placement of the campaign's PSAs. National cable partners include: A&E, Bravo Networks, CNBC, CNN, Comedy Central, Fox News, HBO, History Channel, Lifetime, MTV, The Sci-Fi Channel, TNT, and USA. Regional cable 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), News Channel 5+ (Tennessee), Newschannel 8 (Virginia), Newswatch 15 (Louisiana), Northwest Cable News (Alaska, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington), Ohio News Network, Pittsburgh Cable News Channel, and Six News Now (Florida).
  • 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), Sister Sister (WB), Steve Harvey Show (WB), and Veronica's Closet (NBC).
  • Raymond Chambers, Michael Crichton, Barry Diller, Quincy Jones, Stanley Shuman, and Grant Tinker have joined the campaign as advisors. A complete list of advisors is attached to this release.

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."

To sustain the momentum of last year's Presidents' Summit for America's Future, General Powell is now heading America's Promise/The Alliance for Youth. America's Promise is a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of 15 million at-risk youth in the United States. America's Promise aims to provide these young people with access to all five of the America's Promise Fundamental Resources needed to lead healthy and productive lives: an ongoing relationship with a caring adult--parent, mentor, tutor, coach; safe places and structured activities during non-school hours; a healthy start; a marketable skill through effective education; and an opportunity to give back through community service.

America's Promise asked the Harvard Mentoring Project to take the lead responsibility for a national media campaign to promote mentoring. One to One|The National Mentoring Partnership is the America's Promise lead mentoring partner and chief advisor to the Harvard Mentoring Project. Other non-profit partners in the campaign include Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the Points of Light Foundation, and Save the Children. Within Massachusetts, 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 Company 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 that provided opportunities for 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 drinking and driving.

The Center has employed similar strategies in the "Squash It!" Campaign. Partners have included ABC, Black Entertainment Television, CBS, Fox, and MTV; leading record companies and rap artists; the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Football League, and the National Basketball Association; 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).

The "Squash It!" Campaign has achieved its greatest success among African-American teenagers, one of the campaign's primary target groups. In a 1997 national survey, approximately 72% of African-American teenagers were aware of the Campaign (up from 61% in 1995), and 58% had used the phrase "Squash It!" to disengage from potentially violent confrontations (up from 48% in 1995).

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
E-mail: chc@hsph.harvard.edu