Over two decades ago, my wife and I came to know a north side Minneapolis family that included two adopted, mixed-race children — Rafael, now age 30, and Brittany, 29.
Their mother, Bonnie, had in 1999 learned of a new faith-based mentoring organization called Life Coaches for Kids, started by a businessman and friend of ours, Glenn Jeffrey of Orono.
Inspired by his earlier Big Brother experiences and Colin Powell’s “America’s Promise” initiative on whose national board he served, Jeffrey’s idea was to match trained, committed adults with 10- to 15-year-olds, most of whom he anticipated would be fatherless. He boldly asked the kids and the coaches he recruited to spend six hours of time together every week.
Friendship, trust, life skills
Jeffrey, who some years ago merged his program with a larger national one, had three goals in mind for his Life Coaches project: developing genuine friendships; establishing trust between all parties; and, fostering life-skills development like learning day-to-day manners in treating others, goals-setting and personal development to, as he said, “help one another become all that God designed us to be.”
My wife and I became original Life Coaches, got trained and were paired with Rafael and Brittany by Jeffrey, who had learned of the kids through developing a partnership with the Minneapolis based Urban Ventures program.
We must have not read the fine print of the agreement because we are still close to the family — the photo above is from a recent birthday party for Bonnie — sharing experiences that have included confirmation, graduation from high school, continuing education and college. The two today are taxpayers who have obtained self-supporting jobs that include patiently working with special-needs kids and serving as a security guard.
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 are not on a waiting list of any sort and could use a caring adult to be a part of their lives.
It was personal tragedy, the loss of a beloved child, that caused me at age 50 to honor Judson’s lost life by being purposeful about the one-on-one mentoring of young people.
Mentoring is an excellent way to support any child in making important decisions, and such opportunities abound if both parties are intentional in seeking a long-term relationship. I have found such opportunities simply through being interested in a person — a neighbor, a child of a friend, through organizations where we both share an interest.
More broadly, there are organizations that devote themselves to helping kids, including Scouts, churches, Boys and Girls Club, YMCAs and various nonprofit organizations including Kids in Need; each can be an excellent resource.
Mentoring makes good economic sense. With the ongoing retirements within my own baby boomer generation and growing shortages in the work force, it is estimated that Minnesota now has more senior citizens than children.
Seniors can help those younger to find a job. There are 7 million job postings for young people available each month — that would be about 1,400 in Minnesota — the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of Labor, and U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics are bullish on many career opportunities for the next generation.
Mentoring, in my view, should not be the exclusive domain of young people. Each of us as adults, informally or not, need and deserve a kind of wizened coach to help us along life’s path.
Chuck Slocum is president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm. He was named a National Mentor of the Year in 2006 and can be reached at WillistonGroup@Gmail.Com