It’s National Mentoring Month and there’s no better time to tell you how being a mentor changed my life! I have learned from the perspectives of young people. I have witnessed firsthand systemic racism and inequity. I have experienced the roadblocks that get in the way of accessing community resources. I have become a better listener and less judgmental. And I have seen how young people can lead the way, if given a voice and an opportunity.
Stark County has more than 35 mentoring and youth development programs that provide adult volunteers with an opportunity to build trusted connections with young people. You can find those programs at www.mentorstark.org. But you can begin practicing your skills today by adopting a “mentoring mindset” to support the young people who are naturally in your life through family, community, church, etc. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Mentors Focus On Relationship: Create time and space for conversation about topics that are important to the young people in your life. Listen, without judgement, and with a desire to understand. Allowing young people a safe place to verbalize their thoughts and opinions helps build social-emotional and critical thinking skills. Your goal is not to be an influencer, but simply to be someone they trust with their thoughts.
- Mentors Are Encouragers: Every young person has their own unique journey and mentors come alongside, not to direct the journey, but to offer support and encouragement along the path. The form that encouragement takes is based on the knowledge that comes from knowing your mentee. I have found that many of the young people I am connected really appreciate hearing “I am so proud of you” when they have taken a step towards a goal or explored a new opportunity. When I say it, I mean it. There is no greater joy for me than seeing a mentee put effort into trying something new or going after something they want.
- Mentors Open Doors: One of your most important roles as a mentor is to help your mentee explore opportunities, build relationships and step out of their comfort zones. You can offer a young person a chance to job shadow, connect them with people who work in careers that align with their natural talent and skills, provide access to platforms to share their solutions to community issues, and encourage them to participate in activities that will help them grow and learn more about themselves. As a mentor, I am constantly passing along opportunities, writing scholarship and job recommendations, elevating voice, and creating new connections for my mentees. One of the most heartwarming things is that now that many of my mentees are starting in their careers, they are doing the same thing for me. It’s a true indication of the reciprocal nature of mentoring friendships.
For more information on adult and youth mentoring in Stark County, visit https://www.starkhelpcentral.com/mentoring