“Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living—if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing you the way. A mentor.” Denzel Washington
A mentor can be defined as “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.” In Greek mythology and legend, Odysseus put a mentor in charge of his household when he left for Troy. This mentor was the adviser of Odysseus’ son Telemachus. In our modern world, I’d define a mentor as anyone who positively guides another person. A mentor doesn’t have to be older than his or her mentee. For example, millennials with their high tech “know how” often mentor their parents on the use of the latest tech gadgets (ahh-yes). For most of us, our earliest and most important mentors are our parents, grandparents and perhaps other close family members. As we grow and our world expands we discover mentors in teachers, coaches, colleagues, and many others.
Organizations that promote mentoring relationships have been developed to serve a myriad of needs in our communities. I have had the privilege of serving as a mentor for Generation Hope over the past six years. Every mentoring relationship is unique, as it should be, and affirms the one-of-a-kind human bond that two (or more) individuals create when they come together as mentor and mentee.
As a successful person, think about the mentors in your life and how they have impacted you. We know that approximately 1 in 3 at-risk youth are growing up without a mentor in their lives (1). Mentoring changes lives for the better. Mentor responsibilities include cheering their mentees on, setting high expectations, showing them the ropes and sometimes helping them to realize the amazing potential that they have and may be oblivious to. Examples of benefits experienced by at-risk youth who are mentored include (1):
- 55% more likely to be enrolled in college
- 46% less like than their peers to start using drugs
- 81% more likely to report participating regularly in sports or extracurricular activities
What’s it like to be a mentor? One advantage of being a mentor is the possibility of seeing the results of your efforts immediately. It might be something as simple as appreciating the smile on your mentee’s face when you share a special outing together. Or, it may be having the ability to actively intervene if your mentee is facing a particular challenge such as difficulty with her/his classwork, a financial or emotional hardship or a physical/mental health problem. Many mentoring organizations provide tutoring, emergency funds, counseling and other support services. Then, there’s the relationship. The mentor-mentee bond can take on many forms. For some, the relationship is fairly structured and goal oriented. For others, it’s loosely bound and more fluid. Whatever shape it takes, it is built around the needs of the mentee. It will meld the chemistries, personalities and backgrounds of the individuals involved.
While the mentoring relationship is about the mentee, mentors receive numerous benefits too. I’d say that it’s a very fulfilling role to adopt. We can’t solve all the problems of the world, but we can make a positive difference in the life of at least one person outside of our family. In addition to being a source of support, I’ve developed a friendship with my mentees. Because Generation Hope works with teen parents, these friendships have extended to their children and, in my current case, to a spouse as well. We’ve visited local parks and Brookside Gardens at Christmas time, taken a trip to NYC, explored local eateries and much more. This spring, my mentee will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Nursing from the University of Maryland. Her family and her young son will watch with tremendous pride as she walks across the stage. I will be somewhere in the background, cheering her on and feeling pride too, but also with a twinge of sadness because this means our formal time together as mentor-mentee will be ending. We’ve already made a pledge to keep in touch and I look very much forward to watching her continue to grow, spread her wings, and make a remarkable impact in her community.
Source: (1) www.nationalmentoringmonth.org
In the section that follows, we’ll review 3 amazing mentoring and volunteer organizations:
Generation Hope, MentorPrize, and So What Else.
Editor’s Note: Our most recent Lady Docs book club discussion was about Educated by Tara Westover (see Dr. Julia Korenman’s review). In this book, and many others we have read, we have seen the importance of mentoring in young people’s lives. It’s difficult for anyone to succeed totally on their own. Especially to move out of an oppressive situation, we need someone to model and advise and show us the way. To this end, speakers from the groups that Dr. Overton mentioned attended our book discussion. They told us about their organizations and broadened our views based on their experiences. Contact information is provided for those who want to be a mentor or volunteer. A synopsis by Dr. Overton follows:
Generation Hope (GH)
The overarching goal of GH is to “reduce poverty one family at a time.” They do this by providing sponsorship and mentoring assistance to teen parents who are attending college. In addition to one-on-one mentoring, GH provides tuition assistance, counseling, tutoring, and much more. The program has grown from seven scholars in 2010 to one hundred in 2019. The organization has received widespread recognition in media such as The Washington Post and on the ABC World Nightly News. GH’s founder, Nicole Lewis, was a CNN Hero in 2014 and recently received the prestigious Roslyn S. Jaffe Award in 2018 for her passionate work with GH. Volunteers can participate in the one-on-one mentoring, a new group mentoring program called “Resource Families”, as a tutor and in many other capacities. www.supportgenerationhope.org (202) 656-8705
This organization aims to connect mentors with children and adults from disadvantaged backgrounds. Mentorprize recruits mentors from the DMV region and seeks to match them with volunteer programs that suit their unique talents. Their efforts lead to “Building Bridges-One Relationship at a Time.” Mentorprize was founded in 2014 by Leslie Adelman who recognized the tremendously positive impact that mentoring has on individuals and communities. Currently, the organization helps recruit mentors for more than 20 organizations, each of which supports its mentors to help make the experience most successful. Mentorprize holds approximately four recruitment events per month, usually through “lunch-and-learns” and they also recruit volunteers via online sources, community events, religious organizations and much more. www.mentorprize.org (240) 772-1101
So What Else
Through strong partnerships, So What Else is able to connect and build community between youth, parents, community members, volunteers and their staff. They offer free after school and summer camp educational and creative programming to youth of underserved families, promote volunteerism as well as services to community organizations. Importantly, they encourage youth receiving their services to “pay it forward” to their community through service. So What Else was founded on a simple premise “to do good in the world.” Their motto is “Help the kids: Help the community: and Help the kids help the community.” They lead over seventy volunteer events per year. The organization was co-founded by Dave Silbert and Bob Schless. www.sowhatelse.org (301) 279-6990
*All organizations serve the DMV region