January is National Mentoring Month. This is an ideal time to think about the impact that each of us can have on one another by giving our time to offer guidance and counsel. Too often, we shy away from the chance to do this simple act of positive encouragement. When I was young, my parents had a picture of a man reaching back over a wall pulling someone else up to achieve the same goal he had done. This picture embodied this ideal perfectly. It's not enough for one to "make it" themselves. It is our responsibility to bring someone else to the same achievement.
Research shows that young people who interact with mentors on a consistent basis are less likely to abuse drugs and engage in violent behavior, and more likely to graduate from high school and continue their education through college. Furthermore, a mentor's position as a positive role model can inspire children to strive for success, and instill a sense of confidence that will allow them to achieve their full potential in school, their communities, and in their future careers.
The observance of National Mentoring Month is a celebration of the countless adults who cultivate a supportive environment for at-risk children and youth by becoming mentors. The goal of the observance is to create an opportunity to raise public awareness about the important role that mentoring plays in the lives of young people, to focus attention on mentoring as a strategy to boost academic achievement, and to encourage corporations, faith-based organizations, governmental entities, and community-based agencies to help establish or expand mentorship programs across the country.
As a former board member of the Boys & Girls Club of Camden County, the T.I.M.E. Mentoring Program in the Mt. Laurel schools and a collegiate peer mentor, I know the importance of this role in the lives of our kids and how it helps shape the future society in which we live.
We are all standing on the shoulders of those who believed in us long before we every believed in ourselves. It is incumbent upon us to repay that debt by providing that service to someone else.
Most people who have had even modest success in life have had mentors, even if they didn’t know it or use the term. Parents, of course, come to mind, and on the job, a particularly good boss is someone we try to emulate even if we don’t think of it in those terms.
However, some people never consciously make an effort to serve as mentors. I had a conversation with a friend, and his view was interesting. “We forget,” he said. “Forget what?” I asked.
“We forget as we get older that we too, at some stage in our life, were uncertain, less disciplined and apprehensive, if not downright afraid,” he said. “And the worst part is that we just didn’t know how to ask for help or what kind of help we needed to ask for. Unfortunately, today, many kids have a parent that is missing or parents that get bogged down with other issues.”
Here are two simple suggestions: First, think locally and personally. You either know someone who needs a mentor or you are involved in an organization that can lead you to the right group. Church congregations, fraternal or sorority groups, civic and educational organizations probably lead the way. If there is anything that I’ve written which is accurate, it’s this: There are more opportunities for mentors than there are mentors.
If you’re unsure, turn to the people who created National Mentor Month. Their goal is raise “awareness of mentoring in its various forms; recruiting individuals to mentor, especially in programs that have a waiting list of young people; and promoting the rapid growth of mentoring by recruiting organizations to help find mentors for young people. …The National Mentoring Summit is the culminating event and takes place Jan 28–30 at Arlington, VA. Sponsors: Harvard School of Public Health, MENTOR and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).” For info, visit MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership at www.nationalmentoringmonth.org or www.mentoring.org.
Mentoring a younger person can be one of the most important influences in that person’s life. This is not hyperbole or a salute to one’s own conceit. How many times in a conversation have you heard someone say the equivalent of: “If it hadn’t been for . . . I’m not sure I would have made it or done as well as I have.” Most of you reading this have had some degree of success in an activity you’ve chosen to pursue. You made it because someone lent a helping hand. Now is a good time to extend your own hand.