On this chilly Monday, January comes to a close — as does the first month of 2011, as does National Mentoring Month.
In the interest of full disclosure, I had not thought about this month’s moniker until I saw it pop up around the non-profit blogsphere: on Social Media & Social Justice, Allison Jones catalyzed a discussion on mentoring and age — and how youth need not be barrier to providing career advice and support. She aptly points out that, through mentoring, “You’re forced to think about your choices: Saying “just because” doesn’t fly when you are mentoring someone. They want to know why you made certain choices and the consequences (good and bad).” And writing from the Indianapolis non-profit community, Jessica Journey blogs a tribute to three of her mentors, highlighting leaders who have transitioned from one sphere to another: from for-profit to n0n-profit or from foundations to education.
Taking her theme a bit farther, mentors have a particular power when they can alert a young person to the simple breadth and versatility of life. Especially for middle and high school students, who they are now can feel like who they will be forever — so a mentor who not only has incited social change and justice, but who took a few turns or alternative routes to get there, can provide hope and motivation. According to the MENTOR: National Mentoring Partnership:
- 1.3 million students drop out of high school each year
- 1/3 of all children (and half of low income and minority youth) fail to graduate on time
- If the dropouts from the Class of 2009 graduated, an additional $319 billion in wages, taxes and productivity over their working lives would have been generated
Along with Mentoring USA and Big Brothers Big Sisters, MENTOR launched a 2010 A “designed to connect mentors with young people in 170 communities.” Their announcement cited research on students ages 12-18, suggesting that mentoring has “significant positive effects on two early indicators of high school dropouts: high levels of absenteesim and recurring behavior problems.” In his December 2010 proclamation, President Obama declared that:
“Across our Nation, mentors steer our youth through challenging times and support their journey into adulthood. During National Mentoring Month, we honor these important individuals who unlock the potential and nurture the talent of our country, and we encourage more Americans to reach out and mentor young people in their community.”
So what does all this mean? Of course, that mentoring and supporting and advising are vitally important to our communities — and are sometimes the difference between a young person staying in school and dropping out before graduation. But moreover, I would add that both the blogs and the numbers suggest that there is no science or magic to mentoring (as the movies might indicate). From middle school kids to early and mid-career professionals, most everyone has craved a willing listener and ready advisor. And that advisor need not be perfect or even particularly established. He or she simply needs to provide perspective, support, and perhaps a bit of savvy. He or she just needs to be there.
In the diverse, resourceful, and driven community that is Greater Washington, I happen to think that we have those people in abundance. So while Mentoring Month is technically over, we can keep thinking about how to harness what we’ve learned and experienced to aid someone else — even if we are far from having all the answers! So check out the Catalogue charities that specialize in mentoring and enrichment or stop by Happenings for a list of volunteer opportunities.