I found out something new this past weekend. I was attending the Inaugural Ceremony of Council Member Robert E. Cornegy and during his address he mentioned that January is National Mentoring Month.
I didn’t know that we had a National Mentoring Month. Not so much a surprise, because there are many things I don’t know. Which is fortunate, because that makes every day an opportunity for learning. It was a great event by the way and you can read more about it elsewhere in The Brooklyn Reader.
I do want to take this opportunity to wish the Council Member a successful first term and also to thank parting Council Member Albert Vann for all the great work that he has done for the community.
Ok, back to National Mentoring Month. It all started in 2002 when George W. Bush declared January as the month to endorse the mentoring campaign. And see there, I learn something new again, because until now I thought nothing good had come out of the Bush administration.
According to the Merrian-Webster dictionary, a mentor is someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person. We probably have all been guilty of mentoring someone at some point in life, but I believe that mentoring as it is meant here takes place when you are consciously aware of the process and purposely take time out of your busy schedule to council and coach another person.
As is to be expected, the research shows that mentoring has a positive impact. A 2013 study by Public/Private Ventures and published by MDRC entitled “The Role of Risk: Mentoring Experiences and Outcomes for Youth with Varying Risk Profiles,” examined mentoring for higher-risk youth. Some of the outcomes are that mentoring leads to a reduction in depressive symptoms, where one in four youth reported worrisome levels of these symptoms at baseline. Findings also suggested gains in social acceptance, academic attitudes and grades.
This report builds on other research that has demonstrated that mentored youth have better school attendance; a better chance of going on to higher education; and better attitudes toward school. Mentoring appears to help prevent substance abuse and reduce some negative youth behaviors. Moreover, mentoring promotes positive social attitudes and relationships and mentored youth tend to trust their parents more and communicate better with them.
I have mentored many individuals in my life, usually around work or life in general. I currently work with a couple of youth to share some of my experiences and give advice on how they could approach a certain life’s challenge. In many cases they are dealing with situations that I cannot directly relate to, such as homelessness or dysfunctional families. But I can also be a great listener at times and active listening helps someone to express him or herself in order to face what they are dealing with.
I think it is important to allow someone to fully express any feelings surrounding the situations they are facing. Not to dwell on them and blame society or others, but to see them for what they are and acknowledge that feelings are not real and exist in our heads alone.
Not having a home or a job is real though and only by accepting accountability for these or other situations, a possibility will emerge as to how to address the challenge. Taking matters in your own hands is easier than changing society or to change others. Believe me, I have tried and to no avail. There’s some mentoring for you! Thinking, feeling, and talking about what needs to get done does not make a difference whatsoever. Only once you come into action, you can impact your own life and that of others.
With that being said, will you take on mentoring someone this month? It can be a nephew or a niece, someone at work, or a neighbor. Mentoring is a very rewarding activity. It makes you feel good about yourself and the things you have accomplished in life. You see, it is a two edged sword and very therapeutic for both the mentor as well as for the mentee.
In closing some tips for aspiring mentors:
- Exercise active listening when mentoring and focus on strengths that are already there.
- Provide common sense guidance from your own experience, not taking the place of a parent, therapist, parole officer or peer.
- Keep in mind that showing up on time or showing up at all will be an accomplishment for many youth. Putting a consistent structure in place with a set meeting time during the week will help with this.
- Evaluate the mentoring relationship from time to time. Be open and honest in your communication with the mentee and check in what is working and what not.
More information and resources on mentoring can be found with The National Mentoring Partnership.
Happy Mentoring 2014!!