Have you ever thought about becoming a mentor, but were too afraid or intimidated? Maybe you thought the commitment would be too big, or maybe you’ve just questioned if being a caring adult to a young person would really make a difference.
This January, as MENTOR spotlights what it means to be a mentor In Real Life for the third year in a row, we wanted to bring you stories that challenge some of the myths of mentoring (that you have to bear the official title of “mentor” to make a difference), demonstrate the impact of being a caring adult, and help dispel some of your confusions or concerns.
MENTOR has events happening all month—from a Twitter Chat on Jan. 11 to #ThankYourMentor Day on Jan. 25—but you can get involved right now by reading and sharing the stories below:
Failure is Not a Person: How A Mentor Can Change a Life
Growing up in the 8th ward of Washington D.C., Kenneil Cole says a lot of events could have “broken” him: dealing with drug use in his home, losing his mother, and ending up in foster care and then experiencing homelessness. Fortunately, he had adults in his life who helped him make it through, and not all of them were his official mentors.
“The funny thing is, most of the mentors that I have are people that have no official title as “mentor.” Mentors that have guided me have come from government, neighborhoods, football coaches, and schools,” he writes. “They’ve come from various walks of my life, from heart-to-heart lectures and instances of tough love.”
To Increase Grad Rates, Increase the Number of Adults in Your Community
Kenneil’s story demonstrates that you don’t have to be an official mentor to make a difference, and this Center for Promise report proves even the mere presence of an adult in a neighborhood can lead to higher graduation rates for the students living in that community.
“For every seven more adults in a neighborhood, there is one fewer young person who leaves school without graduating,” Who’s Minding the Neighborhood found. “Overall, the study suggests that adding more adults in a community can help more young people graduate from high school, even after accounting for other important factors, such as income, education level, or race or ethnicity.”
Overcoming Fear: Mentoring's Challenges and Rewards
City Year Los Angeles AmeriCorps member Robert Alvarado knows what it’s like to struggle as a mentor, and he has advice for others experiencing the same thing.
“As a mentor, building connections with students takes time. It can be intimidating. Like me, you might have fears or doubts about the lack of shared experiences. Like me, you might feel like making an effort to reach out doesn’t make a difference the first, second, or hundredth time.”
As Alvarado discovered, persistence and consistency are worth it in the long run. “Any fears I had about being a good mentor at the beginning of the school year have transformed into a true passion for helping students reach their full potential. Students will remember the time you’ve put in to getting to know them. Try a funny game, get a conversation going. I promise, you will make a difference.”
How Mentors Can Better Support Their Mentees
Even experienced mentors may find themselves in uncertain situations. For example, what if a young person comes to you crying and in obvious distress—is it more important to offer solutions or resources, or is the first step to tend to their emotional needs? Only 20 percent of adults surveyed got the answer right—which was offering emotional support.
“Youth often have the answers within themselves for what they need or want to do for their situation, and it’s our job to bring that out,” a panelist explained. “Most importantly, we need to respect their right to make their own decisions and to make their own mistakes even sometimes. The goal is to empower them rather than necessarily to tell them what to do.”
Ready to get involved? Head to MENTOR’s website for more information, resources, and toolkits.