Imagine this position description: “Duties include, but are not limited to, shooting hoops, hitting the mall and assisting with tricky but awesome science fair projects. Affinity for sour gummy worms and/or Top 40 music is an asset. Experience with monkey bars, Snapchat and crushes appreciated. Sole mandatory requirement: showing up.”
Also note that this role will not only provide you with engagement, purpose and flat-out fun. It can literally improve another human being’s life.
January is National Mentoring Month, shining a spotlight on the crucial difference that consistent and caring adults can make in the lives of young people, and encouraging mentorship volunteerism.
I know for certain that mentoring works. Having trouble in geometry or navigating the tricky middle school social scene? A mentor has ideas. Want to vent, brag or just talk? A mentor will listen. In just a few hours a month, mentors give intangible but critical gifts: consistency, communication and connection. And when kids are mentored, everyone benefits.
Kids win: In January 2014, the national organization MENTOR released “The Mentoring Effect: Young People’s Perspectives on the Outcomes and Availability of Mentoring.” This report indicates that when matched through a quality program, mentors can help kids stay engaged in school, reduce or avoid drug use and make other responsible choices. Mentored students who are at risk for not completing high school are 55 percent more likely to enroll in college than those who did not have a mentor, 81 percent more likely to participate in athletics or extracurricular activities, and more than twice as likely to hold a leadership position in school or sports. Mentored youth are also better at effectively navigating relationships with teachers, friends and family.
Communities win: In addition to helping individual children beat the odds, the mentoring effect ultimately strengthens communities. Kids who are mentored are 78 percent more likely to volunteer regularly in their schools or neighborhoods. And nearly nine in 10 mentored kids said they are now interested in becoming mentors for other community members.
Mentoring can also connect community members who might otherwise have little opportunity to meet. Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities launched the Hmong Mentoring Initiative (HMI) in 2013. With its careful attention to potential language and cultural barriers, HMI is heartily embraced by Hmong parents, children and mentors. In addition to enjoying one-on-one time, “Bigs” offer their HMI “Littles” culturally responsive support as they negotiate their futures.
Mentorship also enhances the workplace. Employers who encourage their employees to participate in mentoring programs experience unanticipated perks: employees’ morale gets a boost, and their soft skills, such as communication, teamwork and problem solving, markedly improve. One example is the Carlson Family Foundation’s “Beyond School Walls” program, which welcomes young people from Best Academy in north Minneapolis to Carlson’s Minnetonka campus twice a month, where they share time with Carlson mentors. This kind of programming obviously lifts up kids, but also empowers busy adults to give back to their community.
Mentors win: Potential mentors’ first question is often: “How am I going to cram this commitment into my already hectic schedule?” But once mentors are matched, they often report greatly anticipating their regular “kid date” of boot hockey, scrapbooking or pizza. The Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota’s “State of Mentoring” study showed that more than 80 percent of matches meet or exceed the required meeting frequency. Indeed, many Big Brothers and Big Sisters say they gain as much, if not more, from the relationship as their young friends do.
Minnesota wins: It’s a leader in youth mentorship, and as the oldest and largest mentoring organization, we take pride in that legacy. Statewide, 41,000 adults per month mentor approximately 200,000 children. This translates to more than $7.5 million annually in donated time among hundreds of mentoring groups.
But we need more mentors. At least 250,000 Minnesota youth are waiting for a match. And because nationwide 29 percent of boys wait one year or more for a mentor (compared with only 5 percent of girls), male volunteers are especially important. So this month, consider making a difference in the life of a Minnesota kid, and Be Someone Who Matters to Someone Who Matters.
Gloria Lewis is president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities. To learn more about becoming a volunteer mentor with her organization, visit www.bigstwincities.org.