It’s January, that point on the Western calendar when we humans are pre-programmed to look in the mirror with trepidation, sigh and lace up our running shoes. And even though I’ll try to be good and get back into an exercise regimen, somehow it seems unfair that the New Year begins when temperatures are plummeting, it’s unrelentingly dark outside my bedroom window and three people gave us tins of cocoa mix for the holidays.
But there are other methods of self-improvement. One way of looking in the mirror and doing that whole self-evaluation thing is to become a mentor. When we go out of our way to help another person succeed, there’s an inner burnishment; we’re polishing the mirror we peer into and in turn, see ways to improve our own lives.
Mentoring benefits both people involved, but as Steven Spielberg described it:
The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.
The practice of mentoring is as old as the hills.
To be historically accurate, the concept took its name from when Homer’s Odysseus left for the Trojan War, leaving his household under the careful guidance of his trusted friend, Mentor. The word mentor didn’t arise from a babysitting arrangement; the Goddess Athena visited the household while Odysseus was gone, and disguised as Mentor, gave practical life advice to his son, Telemachus. These are only two examples of mentoring.
Which is my point: there are many ways to mentor another person.
Mentoring is standard practice in business; it’s a way of showing a younger colleague the ropes, teaching them entrepreneurship. The practice is also often found in teacher-student relationships in academia.
Partners Mentoring Youth, a Colorado program working to forge supportive relationships with kids from families that are vulnerable, is always seeking out people interested in mentoring kids, beginning as early as Kindergarten through graduation from high school.
The organization seeks to pair Senior Partners with children whose own families may not have time for stable routines. Getting together on a regular schedule where you can be a positive influence simply by sharing your daily activities with kids is special. It’s something Junior Partners don’t always see in their home life.
In Northern Colorado during 2016, Partners Mentoring Youth (“PMY”) served 450 kids with challenges in their personal, social and academic lives by pairing them with positive adult role models. The organization serves youth in Fort Collins, Loveland, Greeley and Estes Park. Because January is National Mentoring Month, PMY hopes to create awareness about the positive benefits of the program.
Mentoring needn’t take hours of free time. The school-based program asks volunteers to spend one hour a week during the school day engaging with kids during lunchtime or on the playground. Kids who are paired with a Senior Partner are very proud of that relationship, often showing off their special partner to schoolmates. This program complements the schools’ efforts to monitor or help the child work through personal issues.
There is also a community based model where the time Junior and Senior partners spend together is less structured. The requirement is three hours a week, but the activities are up to you and your Junior Partner. From baking cookies, walking the dog, going on a hike or riding an escalator together — an activity one Junior Partner dreamt about but had never been able to do — often the simplicity of these kid’s needs is astonishing. Many Junior Partners come from single parent families and need some extra guidance and attention solely because of their family dynamics.
Exposure to opportunities and recreational activities their own parents may not be able to provide is seen as a gift, by both the kids and their families.
Grace Taylor, a PMY board member for four years, grew up with a multitude of mentors and influential teachers. “You don’t realize what support you have until you move away from it,” she notes. She’s always had people in her life telling her to go to school, shape up and work hard to have a better life. “It’s hard to imagine certain people not in your life, not cheering for you or just simply listening.” She also recognizes the societal impact. “It’s better to catch the kids upstream through a community mentoring program than have to deal with the justice system later in life,” she says. Heather Vesgaard, Executive Director of PMY, agrees. She has spent much of her two sons’ lives as a single mom, and recognizes the difference positive role models such as her grandfather and brothers have made in her sons’ lives.
Gail Goodman is now in her second partner relationship with 16-year-old Rose. Goodman, a criminal defense attorney with a background in child development therapy, sees her relationship with Rose as one of almost a sister. As partners now for over three years, they’ve established a comfortable relationship. They both decide the activities they’ll do on the Monday nights they spend together, talking to each other via text message. It could be movies, getting a manicure or going out for dinner to try different foods — for fun. Sometimes Gail prevails and gets Rose to watch bad movies from the ’80s. Better Off Dead, with John Cusack, was a recent success. They also saw The Nutcracker ballet together and spent a special weekend up in the mountains at the Stanley Hotel.
Their relationship is built on a platform of trust.
Rose enjoys the stable friendship, and like most teens, endures tough spots some days dealing with self-hatred and body image. But she says she digs the partnership program. “I look up to Gail and we talk through it. I know she’s there for me.”
If you really want to know about the stability of the PMY program, ask Mike Ketterling. He and his wife, Nomie have mentored six Junior Partners, beginning their involvement with the organization in 1979. All it took was including the kids in whatever they did, or as Mike puts it,”We were doing stuff anyway so we just included our Junior Partners.” Nomi even took them along to go clothes shopping. For the Ketterlings, mentoring is showing kids that there are reliable people who care about them. Eric, a Junior Partner who is now 44 years old with twelve-year-old twins of his own, has become part of their family, and Eric sees parenting his kids as something having the highest priority in his life.
Mike is glad he and his wife made a mark on the next generation.
And for Rose? Since she’s met Gail, her eyes have been opened to life’s possibilities. After graduating from high school, she wants to travel and volunteer at the Shambhala Mountain Center, a Buddhist Retreat in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. She wants to spend some time figuring out what she wants to be as an adult.
Before partnering with Gail, it was all she could do to maintain a stable frame of mind.
Now that she’s gained confidence in herself and her abilities, she’s ready to help others. She’s ready to take her place in the world.
Want to try on a mentor’s shoes? Are you interested in becoming a mentor with Partners Mentoring Youth? There are many ways to become involved. Only have a little time? Try the school-based mentor program or be an Activity Volunteer. Donors and sponsors are highly valued: invest in the future with a $1,500 donation to support one youth a year.
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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished, https://www.facebook.com/EmilyKemme, or on Twitter @EmFeedsYou . Life inspired. Vodka tempered.
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