The New Year will ring in many changes in our lives in 2017, and one that I recommend is to celebrate January — National Mentoring Month — by becoming a mentor yourself.
Nearly two decades ago, after a great personal loss, my wife and I began to intentionally mentor young people, initially through a program founded and headquartered in Minnesota. Two near-northside Minneapolis kids we met in those early days are still a major part of our lives, as is their adoptive mother.
Like many others, for years I had been actively engaged in relating to and enjoying kids and welcomed some training and a more formal arrangement.
As these relationships began to click in numerous ways, I got serious about mentoring as a driving force in my life and have endeavored to mentor young people — some nearing age 40 now — for as long as they’d have me.
Such prolonged mentoring relationships makes for wonderful expanded families, with weddings, baptisms, graduations and holiday gatherings all the more meaningful for us.
My own plan and legacy
My plan evolved so that at age 50 I began devoting one-third of my time and available income to being a mentor, which also means being wonderfully mentored in return by these great kids.
Some time ago I further resolved to use my time and resources to advance successful ways to support kids already identified on a “failure track,” in part by providing necessary early learning as a child’s brain develops, achieving literacy by third grade, improved K-12 and post-high-school education, job training and a kind of continuing life coach volunteer mentoring model for these young kids at least until they are age 25.
If I could today define my own life legacy, it would be as a mentor to young people.
It is not just individuals who can weigh in here; businesses, government agencies, schools, faith communities, and nonprofits can work together to help ensure productive lives for young people, making a real impact on lives and communities.
Mentors needed in Minnesota
The parents of half of Minnesota’s kids say they’d welcome an adult mentor to help their children succeed, yet only about one in three has such a person available. Sadly, countless other young people fall between the cracks and are not on a waiting list of any sort. While many do have such support, every child could use a caring adult to be a part of their lives.
Mentoring takes many shapes and forms, depending on the child and circumstances, but is a consistent way to share friendship, fun and eventually help a mentee to make important decisions that can be extremely valuable along the way to adulthood.
Positive results of mentoring
One measurement of the positive results of mentoring is based on an 18-month study by Little Brothers/Little Sisters. It found that over half of the mentees were less likely to skip school, nearly half were less likely to use illegal drugs, one-third were less likely to physically abuse someone, and one-fourth were less likely to consume alcohol. All four conditions that can make a young life more challenging.
With the oncoming retirements within the baby boomer generation, by 2020 we will have more senior citizens than children in Minnesota. These senior citizens will number in the hundreds of thousands and offer young parents and their kids a potentially powerful volunteer resource.
So, as a 2017 New Year’s resolution, you might want to take some steps toward adding mentoring to your life, either as an individual volunteer or in helping an organization to make our lives and communities better — one kid at a time.
(The Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota is a reliable resource for individuals and groups to call upon. As with all social programs, the stability and strength of a mentoring program is determined at least in part by the character of the organization implementing it. There are a number of core organizational features that are crucial to ensure that a program is well managed, meets all legal requirements and is financially stable.)
Chuck Slocum is president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm; he is a former National Mentor of the Year selected by Mentor/Youth.Com. He can be reached at Chuck@WillistonGroup.Com.
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