I am the president and CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, an organization that is a unifier and resource for all those who want to expand mentoring opportunities for kids – organizations, individuals, policy makers, schools and the private sector. We are thrilled to be a major partner in the Generation to Generation campaign.
Mentoring has long been part of my fabric, professionally and personally. The main mentoring relationship is the one I’ve been in for seven years with a young man named Keontai (pictured here.) Keontai lives about a mile from our house, but is growing up in very different circumstances from my own children.
I only have one thing that I do for Keontai and that is to just show up. I’ve seen how powerful that is because it’s something that others in his life can’t do as much as they’d like, because they have a lot of other things going on. Mentoring Keontai allows me to learn from him and his family and it’s been incredibly enriching for me. It’s kids like Keontai who will benefit from the Generation to Generation campaign.
Adults over age 50 are great mentors. Some things decline with age, but one thing we know improves is people’s ability to forge relationships. Folks with more experience, folks in a later life stage, are able to bring tremendous wisdom, perspective and a core competency to relationships, especially with young people in situations different from their own. So we are tapping our greatest expertise and richness when we tap the 50+ age group to mentor.
What I tell people is that, if you can show up and bring your best self, you might be the first person to do that consistently for this young person. They will value that above all else. So your hipness, your relevance, how much you’ve accomplished won’t matter as much as just being there for a kid. And don’t forget about the benefits to the mentors. We’ve seen involvement with youth keep people active and strengthen the connection with their own communities.
There’s a real need. One in three young people are growing up without mentors today, despite evidence that mentoring makes it more likely they will succeed in life. Unfortunately, many disadvantaged communities suffer from a “relationship deficit.” In these places, there is no question that parents love their children, but they cannot be available to them as much as they would like, in the face of the economic stress of daily life.
We need people to step forward to fill the need for more caring adults in the lives of these children. We know there is a growing desire on the part of many Americans today to take some kind of action to impact poverty or help schools lacking adequate resources. But they often don’t know where to start. Mentoring is a pathway for action.
I plan to be a mentor as long as I live. It doesn’t feel like a task or a burden. It’s a great privilege.