Mentors come in many forms — teachers, coaches, friends, relatives, coworkers, bosses or connections through charitable organizations. January is National Mentoring Month, a time to support the many folks who serve as mentors and to encourage others to join their ranks.
Across the country, there are approximately 15 million young people in need of mentors; this “mentoring gap” is a monumental challenge for the many agencies working to fill those needs.
January also marks the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service as part of the MLK holiday. While many of us enjoy a day off work or school, we are encouraged to spend time volunteering in the community. This offers a perfect opportunity to get involved in some aspect of service — from giving blood to cleaning up public spaces. It would also be a good time to commit to serve as a mentor.
Every day, mentors change lives in powerful ways. Among high-risk kids, mentoring helps break the cycle of poor academic performance often leading to delinquency. According to extensive research, mentored kids are 52 percent less likely to skip school and 46 percent less likely to start using drugs as compared to similar at-risk kids.
Kids who have been mentored display increased confidence and better social skills than their peers.
Being a mentor doesn’t require special skills, just a desire to help. The late congressional representative John C. Crosby described a mentor as “A brain to pick, an ear to listen and a push in the right direction.”
The presence of a mentor is key — it’s not just the wisdom and guidance they offer, but simply being present and available. For some at-risk youth, mentors are the first and only adults to invest in their lives.
Of course, anyone can benefit from having a mentor, not just kids at risk of slipping through the cracks. Most successful people have stories of someone in their past who went above and beyond to help guide them toward their goals.
Media maven Oprah Winfrey has spoken of her mentor, her 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Duncan. Winfrey said, “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.”
Or as the late British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli put it, “The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.”
Many famous athletes credit their high school coaches with seeing and encouraging their potential in a way no one had before, but most regular folks have been informally mentored, too. Mentors may be academic, athletic, spiritual or vocational — if we’re fortunate, we find mentors in many areas of our lives.
Being a mentor is exceptionally rewarding, too — it’s an opportunity to use one’s own experiences to help someone younger as they navigate life. When we find success in life, we have an obligation to pass on our knowledge and experience by encouraging others.
Locally, several agencies train and support mentors and match them with kids who need them. Rise Up!, Good Samaritan Ministries, Coalition for Kids and Girls on the Run are just a few local groups that offer mentoring to kids of various ages. These organizations heavily depend on the work of volunteers and donors.
National Mentoring Month is a perfect time to consider how you can help a local organization — can you donate money to help with their operation expenses or volunteer as a mentor? In most cases, you need only a few hours a month to serve as a formal mentor.
If that’s not possible, perhaps you could reach out to a young person you know and offer help with schoolwork or athletics, crafting a résumé or developing spiritually.
Maybe a neighbor child who spends afternoons alone would appreciate an invitation to play board games, bake cookies or shoot hoops. Informal mentoring is just as valuable as more formal arrangements.
Another way to honor mentors this month is to thank them. If you’ve been mentored — whether formally or informally — why not take a few minutes to write a note to your mentor, thanking him or her for investing in your life in such a positive way? You also honor your mentor when you pay it forward by serving as one to someone else.
Kids without positive adult influences in their lives need mentors more than anyone — there is always a need for such volunteer help in our community. This month, consider how you can help others through mentoring.
Rebecca Horvath of Johnson City is a wife, mother and community activist.