As a young child I remember leaving my kindergarten classroom at lunch time to meet my mother at her monthly Deborah Auxiliary meetings. A non-profit group that raised funds for a local heart hospital, the organization relied on her to run meetings, lead committees and coordinate events that would advocate for the hospital and grow its endowment. At the time I didn’t realize that what seemed like a bunch of women having fun working together was mentoring at its best. They encouraged one another, they were unified through their common goals and passions, and they gave one another a confidence that together they could do anything. I was doing more than eating my bologna sandwich in the corner while they met, I was being mentored.
I realize now as I reflect on my own work with youth and young adults that by watching these women I learned a great deal about demonstrating compassion, and giving gentle guidance. I was watching first hand these seven C’s of Successful Mentoring:
- I find ways to connect using things that my mentee likes to do. Coffee, a walk or just some time in the park are great non-threatening ways to start out.
- I try to get her talking by asking questions But I don’t put her on the spot, instead I ask about things that she cares about, family, school, work, anything to make her feel comfortable talking.
- I try to respect my mentee’s privacy while also being respectful but vigilant about learning who she is .
- Above all I try to create opportunities to that make my mentee feel that her voice is being heard. They need to feel like that she matters to me.
- I try to identify things that my mentee feels he does well and I encourage him to pursue those interests, activities, or hobbies.
- Over time I try to help my mentee see that the skills he has can be transferred into other areas where he feels less skilled.
- I actively involve my mentee in making decisions that impact our relationship. (i.e, where we go, what we do. etc.)
- I try to turn mistakes or life challenges—whether trivial or serious—into teachable moments.
- I emphasize to my mentee that she has support so she feels valued every day and everywhere.
- I share my own life challenges and lapses in confidence and ask my mentee for help when I can.
- I am especially attentive to obstacles that may challenge my mentee’s confidence:
- I introduce my mentee to institutions and people she might not otherwise meet. We visit museums, take a bus, visit the mountains or just meet with friends and other mentor pairs for an outing.
- If I don’t approve of a friend, relationship or activity, I speak out! I let my mentee know my values and explain why some behaviors aren’t acceptable to me.
- I make sure my own actions align with your words—I am, after all, a key model for my mentee.
- I keep a sense of perspective—and sometimes a sense of humor—about minor infractions in character.
- The times when my mentee treats me as if I’m disposable may be when he/she needs me the most. So I hang back, and wait for an opening to connect.
- I model caring in my interactions.
- I encourage mentees to join school activities and to promote caring and social justice in the world around them.
- I encourage my mentees to participate in causes where they know they will make a contribution.
- I help my mentees to focus on projects the suit them so their efforts have a good chance of succeeding.
- I don’t overprotect my mentees from failure; they need to understand that even the most worthwhile efforts sometimes meet with disappointment.
We are all different and part of this wonderful relationship is learning to share one another’s heritage and appreciate the differences that come with them. I try to:
- Gradually learn about my mentee’s family structure.
- Share information about my family.
- If I have an opportunity to meet the family, I do so. This helps to build bridges and will probably open more opportunities to meet. Once the family understands why you are in their family member’s life it often makes things easier.
- I appreciate that my mentees traditions/beliefs etc. might not be the same as my own. That’s ok. I have many friends and family members who I don’t see eye-to-eye with. This is another opportunity for me to think out of my comfort zone!
Remember, our youth possess remarkable strengths, they can change their behavior, they can develop new cognitive abilities, cultivate different interests, acquire new behavioral skills, and establish new social relationships. As a mentor you are providing the nurturing needed to change another person’s life along with your own. It is change that will be passed on to the next generation.