Question of the Week

January 7, 2008


January is National Mentoring Month.

"The campaign's goal is to recruit volunteer mentors to help young people achieve their full potential. The campaign's theme is 'Share What You Know. Mentor a Child.' ... Participants in the National Mentoring Month campaign include leading nonprofit organizations and numerous governors and mayors. In communities across the country, designated nonprofit and governmental agencies are responsible for coordinating local campaign activities, including media outreach and volunteer recruitment. These local lead partners include state and local affiliates of MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, Corporation for National and Community Service, Points of Light Foundation and Volunteer Center National Network, America's Promise Alliance, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Communities in Schools, and United Way of America."

When working with an agency like Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America, mentors do need to be at least 18. Mentors don't need to be rich, nor do they need to have a college degree. A mentor can be the 18-year-old who takes his 7-year-old neighbor to the park to play basketball.

"A mentor is an adult who, along with parents, provides young people with support, counsel, friendship, reinforcement and a constructive example. Mentors are good listeners, people who care, people who want to help young people bring out strengths that are already there. As a mentor, you can help connect children with the other four America's Promise Fundamental Resources: 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. Things that may seem easy or straightforward to you are often mysterious to young people. That's why it can be easier than you think to make a difference in a young person's life."

Whether or not there are agencies in your area working with the National Mentoring Partnership, there are mentors.

"Mentoring--from the Greek word meaning enduring--is defined as a sustained relationship between a youth and an adult. Through continued involvement, the adult offers support, guidance, and assistance as the younger person goes through a difficult period, faces new challenges, or works to correct earlier problems. In particular, where parents are either unavailable or unable to provide responsible guidance for their children, mentors can play a critical role. The two types of mentoring are natural mentoring and planned mentoring. Natural mentoring occurs through friendship, collegiality, teaching, coaching, and counseling. In contrast, planned mentoring occurs through structured programs in which mentors and participants are selected and matched through formal processes."

A student finds a teacher s/he can talk to. An athlete is inspired by a coach. Natural mentoring works wonderfully in some cases. At other times, it takes a more structured program.

"In 1904, a young New York City court clerk named Ernest Coulter was seeing more and more boys come through his courtroom. He recognized that caring adults could help many of these kids stay out of trouble, and he set out to find volunteers. That marked the beginning of the Big Brothers movement. By 1916, Big Brothers had spread to 96 cities across the country. At around the same time, the members of a group called Ladies of Charity were befriending girls who had come through the New York Children's Court. That group would later become Catholic Big Sisters. Both groups continued to work independently until 1977, when Big Brothers of America and Big Sisters International joined forces and became Big Brothers Big Sisters of America."

Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America is an established agency that many people have heard of, but it is not the only mentoring programs. Schools, churches, and other community groups often recruit mentors to work with the youth in their community; some of these organizations have programs involving mentors under the age 18 who work with younger students. Check what is available in your area.

"The number of mentoring programs has grown dramatically in recent years. This popularity results in part from compelling testimonials by people--youth and adults alike--who have themselves benefited from the positive influence of an older person who helped them endure social, academic, career, or personal crises."

When a natural mentoring situation does not present itself, it can be best to go through an agency. Whether looking to FIND a mentor or BE a mentor, these organizations will meet with all parties involved and work to find the best fit. Additionally, since the process involves two strangers spending time together, these agencies will also do background and reference checks on all mentors that work with them.

While these agencies and organizations work to match adults (age 18 and older) who want to be mentors with children and teens (ages 5 - 18) who are looking for a mentor, teens and young adults who are looking for professional and academic mentors have even more options.

"There are many different ways to find a great internship experience. Many companies have well-established strong internship programs. Others may have assorted positions available as the need arises. However, it may be that you can't find the position you're looking for. In this case you can research and develop your own position. It takes time and effort but an internship that is specifically tailored to your own academic and career goals can be better than one that is 'close enough.' "

Questions of the Week:
What situations can you think of where a person would benefit from both being and having a mentor at the same time? What qualities do you think a person would need to be a good mentor? During what life situations would a person benefit from having a mentor or being an intern? How would you describe a healthy/ mutually beneficial internship or mentoring relationship? How can those who are looking to be or have mentors find each other in a safe way?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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