A mentor’s main purpose is to help a young person define individual goals and find ways to achieve them. Since the expectations of each child will vary, the mentor’s job is to encourage the development of a flexible relationship that responds to both the mentor’s and the young person’s needs.
By sharing fun activities and exposing a youth to new experiences, a mentor encourages positive choices, promotes high self-esteem, supports academic achievement, and introduces the young person to new ideas.
If you think you’d make a good mentor, great. We have lots of information about the many opportunities that are available. But you should be aware that it may take a while to be matched with a youth. Mentoring programs are concerned with the well being and safety of both youth and the volunteer mentors.
Regardless of your background or age, the greatest gift you have to offer a young person is your genuine interest in their life and your willingness to listen attentively to them. Because you bring a wide range of life experiences to your mentoring relationship you can be a wonderful source of advice and information.
As a mentor you offer a young person the consistent opportunity to talk with you and share their wants, needs and expectations. And you, in turn, can help them find ways to fulfill those wants and needs.
You may be worried that you won’t know how to help a child or that you may make a mistake, but it can be easier than you think to make a difference in a young person’s life. Things that may seem straightforward to you and I are often mysterious to young people.
You are in the unique position to offer a young person what they ask for. When asked, most young people say they want a mentor to help in three key areas: advice, access and advocacy.
From time to time, your mentee may need a second opinion or a different perspective — you can provide that. When offering advice, however, it is important to remember that while the roles of a mentor and parents or guardians may occasionally overlap, these are two distinct roles. You are there to provide the child with another caring adult who helps them think through problems. Your job is not to supersede parents or guardians.
One of the most valuable things you can do is to help connect your mentee with people, opportunities and information that are otherwise out of reach. That’s what access is all about — helping your mentee find and get involved in new situations, learn about new things, or find needed resources.
You can be an advocate for your mentee — in other words, work on their behalf to get them the recognition they deserve or the resources they need to resolve issues or problems. You will have to create opportunities to get to know your mentee as a person. The more you learn about your mentee, the stronger an advocate you can be. For instance, maybe you discover that your mentee has a real talent for art. You could advocate having your mentee accepted into a special art program at school or help them enter their artwork in a contest.
Each mentoring relationship will develop its own personality based on the needs of the individual youth 10-18. Despite the variations that will exist from mentee to mentee, it will be obvious to your young friend that they are being offered a friendship with a caring adult. They will see you have a sincere interest to be involved with them. They will receive your respect and empathy, share in your ability to see solutions and opportunities and learn to recognize that healthy relationships are flexible and open and come with a long enough commitment to make a difference.
As you continue a mentoring assignment, you will come to find that the advantages you and your mentee offered each other are truly too numerous to count.
Few bonds in life are more influential than those between a young person and an adult. As you begin your journey toward becoming a mentor, you will need to thoroughly understand the basics of mentoring before entering into a relationship with a young person.
Look at a role you are probably already familiar with. Most of us have had a supervisor, boss or coach. Those people wore many hats. They acted as, delegators, role models, cheerleaders, policy enforcers, advocates and friends. As a mentor you will wear these same hats.
Mentors understand the need to assume a number of different roles during the course of a mentoring relationship, but successful mentors also share the same basic qualities:
As you and your mentee begin your communication; exploring values, interests and goals, you will find yourself making a difference and having a positive effect on a young person’s life. What you may also be surprised to see is that you will be learning more about yourself, too. Mentoring is a shared opportunity for learning and growth. Mentoring doesn’t just affect the young person.
If you’re still not sure you understand what is expected of a mentor then just ask a young person. Good mentors are willing to take time to get to know their mentees, to learn new things that are important to the young person, and even to be changed by their relationship.
Accept the challenges and rewards of mentoring a child for a period of one school year (nine months) or longer and experience the benefits that will last each of you a lifetime.
When looking for a mentoring program that fits your interests and availability, it’s important to find out as much as you can about the program before making a commitment. Here’s a list of questions you might want to explore with a prospective mentoring program:
Source: Virginia Mentoring Partnership
It’s not possible to anticipate every situation and the appropriate behavior to apply when one is mentoring. However, here are a few suggestions to use as general guidelines:
Adapted from materials provided by The Mentoring Partnership of New York, Mentoring In the Faith Community: An Operations Manual for Program Coordinators and from Virginia Mentoring Partnership.
In joining a formal mentoring program, you will probably be asked to go through an application process. As part of that process, you will need to supply personal and professional references, perhaps have a background check performed, and complete a personal interview. Also, remember that the role of a mentor comes with substantial responsibilities so you will be required to take part in an orientation and training. Throughout the duration of your mentoring relationship, be sure to seek support from the program coordinator.
Mentoring experiences come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Sometimes youth are mentored informally through a natural connection between themselves and a caring adult, like a relative, a next door neighbor, a teacher or coach, or someone through their place of worship. There are also formal mentoring opportunities where there is a connection between a caring adult and a young person through an organized, mentoring-focused program.
Several adults working with small groups of young people in which the adult-to-youth ratio is no greater than 1:4.
Mentoring that occurs in a school setting or at a site predetermined by the organization.