The mentoring movement is catching on as a proven way to lift up and encourage youths.

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THE sad, but not altogether shocking, news that as many children in the United States die from suicide as from traffic accidents puts a new focus on the urgency of matching at-risk kids with a caring adult mentor.

A five-year study assessing Washington youths at risk looked specifically at the effectiveness of seven mentoring programs across our state serving 1,310 youths enrolled mostly through Big Brothers Big Sisters. The study, published in 2013 and conducted jointly by Mentoring Works Washington and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, found that when kids are matched with mentors, there is a reduction in symptoms of depression. This was especially significant as one in four of these students reported worrisome levels of depression at the onset. Depression is known to be one of the leading causes of suicide and other self-inflicted harm.

I’ve been a strong believer in mentoring programs for years and have seen time after time how the introduction of a caring adult in the life of a troubled youth can turn a young person’s life around. The mentoring movement is catching on as a proven way to lift up and encourage youths.

The Federal Way School District, for example, just launched a new “Mentor and Me” initiative that promotes the idea of students having a caring and committed adult in their lives, using national figures as a basis. which show a student is 63 percent less likely to skip a class and 51 percent more likely to hold a leadership position in an extracurricular group. The district also points to greater self-esteem, self-confidence and lower dropout rates among students with mentors.

A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, focusing on 10- to 14-year-olds, found that 425 children in this age group killed themselves in 2014, while 384 died in traffic accidents. That could mean that we are doing a much better job in accident safety, but it could also mean that our youngsters — especially girls — are succumbing to pressures created by bullying in social media, peer pressure and other factors.

It is our responsibility to fix this, and we must act. Sixty percent of the youths studied in the Mentoring Works and Gates Foundation report were “DSHS kids” meaning they or their families were enrolled in state-subsidized assistance programs. In other words, we know these kids, who they are and we have a sense of what they might need. Most fall in the “at-risk” category. Finding mentors for them is critical.

A few years ago, the community of Battle Ground in Southwest Washington, faced with a terrifying teen-suicide rate, found itself forced to take action. The community organized and started a program called “Connect Battle Ground” that links 120 organizations together to address the issue of teen suicide. The results so far have been transformational — Battle Ground is on its way.

Mentoring Works Washington, an organization I chair, has its name for a reason: Mentoring is a proven way to help our youths. We just need more mentors to do it.

It doesn’t take much time to become a mentor. If you are a coach, a teacher or a youth leader, you already are one. If not, just pick up the phone or start at your keyboard and hook up with a local mentoring program. State DSHS-funded mentoring programs are also in need of volunteers. You can teach a new skill or just be a friend and chief encourager.

You can make a lasting different to a young life — and just may prevent a death.