Threads across the urban fabric: Youth mentorship relationships as neighborhood bridges

Clio Andris, Xi Liu, Jessica Mitchell, James O’Dwyer, Jeremy Van Cleve

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Geolocated interpersonal relationships form extensive networks of social ties in the city. One type of urban-focused relationship is the community-based youth mentorship, which matches volunteers with at-risk youth. These programs improve youth outcomes in mental health, education and behavior, and are also an asset to a city because they connect disparate social networks. In this work, we uncover how these ties are distributed within an urban context by measuring the extent to which 6,286 pairs of Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) mentorship relationships connect across distant or diverse neighborhoods in seven metropolitan areas. Results show that matches do not span the city or cross administrative boundaries as often as expected, nor do they follow commuter flows differently than our control group. Yet, these connections join socioeconomically different neighborhoods at significant rates. Our results imply that youth mentoring programs have a hidden byproduct of creating a more socially cohesive city, and that policy makers should regard this dividend as a community asset.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-92
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Urban Affairs
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies


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