Dr. Mentor Talks About the Power of Mentoring

Q: What’s mentoring all about? What do you give, and what do you get?

A: Mentoring is about:

people helping youth to succeed
the importance of ensuring that youth are connected with positive role models
individuals who care about others and volunteer to establish a trusting relationship with young people
a deliberate relationship with modest time requirements
a comprehensive screening and training process with successful outcomes

Q: What do mentors do with youth?

A: Mentors are caring adults—they do not have to have a background in teaching or youth development to be a good mentor. They just have to care and be good listeners, offering support and encouragement.

Mentors and youth can decide together what they are going to do each time they meet. Some ideas:

reading a book together
flying a kite
playing basketball in the gymnasium and discussing the latest sports scene
working on an arts and crafts project
working on the computer
writing a resume
reading the want ads
learning a musical instrument
studying a foreign language
discussing career options or plans for after high school

Q:  Why should I mentor? What do I give, and what do I get?

A: Young people who are matched with mentors benefit greatly. They:

improve their self-confidence
improve their attitudes
increase their interest in staying in school
improve relationships with peers and families
are less likely to get involved in drugs and alcohol abuse and delinquent behavior

Mentoring benefits the mentors as much if not more than the mentees. Mentors report that they:

improve their morale
learn more about themselves
improve their own values
get a fresh perspective on their lives
feel more satisfied

Mentoring is a sound investment in our future. Mentoring pays off.

Q: Will you make a good mentor? Questions to ask yourself.

A: There are many qualities that good mentors possess. Yet two stand out as being more important than the rest.

The first is a commitment of time.
If a mentor makes a time commitment to a youth, it is important to keep that agreement. When a reliable mentor shows up when they are supposed to, you are providing youth with the consistency and dependability that is often lacking in their lives. “No shows” are not allowed. Yet mentoring is flexible and programs have built in procedures to notify youth when a mentor is unable to make a scheduled meeting and vice versa.

The other quality is patience.
Often a mentor eagerly wants to observe dramatic results overnight in a youth as a result of their involvement and efforts. But it sometimes takes much longer than overnight to begin to see positive results. Patience is a virtue in mentoring!

In addition to commitment of time and patience, good mentors agree to on-going training and support from program staff.

Mentors are:

good listeners
confidential in all matters relating to their mentee
tolerant, non-judgmental

They also:

possess good communication skills
do not interfere with program policies and procedures
have a good sense of humor
like kids

Mentoring programs today follow quality guidelines, standards of excellence in mentoring. Each prospective mentor goes through a selection process in order to be chosen for this worthwhile and honored role. It includes, at a minimum, completion of an application to become a mentor, employment reference checks, an inquiry about a mentor’s interests, character reference and a criminal background check. Some programs require proof of outstanding driving records and a check with the child abuse registry. These procedures begin a process to match interested individuals with youth who are waiting for your support.

Q:  Finding a program that’s “right” for you. Questions to ask a program representative.

A: The majority of urban, suburban and rural communities in the United States have at least one if not more mentoring programs that have been established to benefit youth. Most likely you will have some choices. You can find out where these organizations exist by checking out www.mentoring.org, the website of MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership. This website also maintains a database of over 2,000 local mentoring programs; you can enter your zip code to view information about programs in your community that currently need volunteers.

You can also find information about mentoring programs near you by checking with your local United Way or Chamber of Commerce. Five hundred Volunteer Centers are also available across the country to assist you; to find the one nearest to you, visit www.PointsOfLight.org, the website of the Points of Light Foundation.

In choosing a program that’s right for you, make sure that it provides strong management and supervision. Here are some questions to ask the program representative before making your final decision:

Where does the mentoring take place?
You may be able to select from settings such as at a workplace, school, faith-based setting, and juvenile correction facility, community setting or e-mentoring, as examples.

What is the required time commitment for the mentoring?
Some programs require one hour each week or four hours per month whereas other programs may suggest several hours each week. Further, what is the length of the commitment?

What types of mentoring does the program offer?
For example, there is the traditional one to one mentoring but also group, peer and e-mentoring in some communities.

How does the program operate?
You will want to know about timeliness of response to your application and eligibility requirements of mentors, which include screening procedures. All programs that are effective and ensure maximum protection for mentors and youth must require a written application, reference checks, criminal background checks and a face-to-face interview.

What kind of initial training and on-going training and support does the program offer? What materials can I expect to receive to assist me in my mentoring?
No mentor should ever have to work with youth in a vacuum. Help should always be available when necessary. Initially, the first training session before a mentor is matched with youth is a time for mentors to learn about program policies and procedures, how to build self esteem in youth, issues around confidentiality, mandated reporting of abuses, gift giving, resources available to assist mentors, physical contact, how to resolve conflicts and many tips on what to do during each session. On-going support should include frequent opportunities for mentors to meet with staff in small groups to discuss any issues or concerns and receive additional assistance.

How are mentors and mentees matched? Is it based on common interests, same gender, or what other criteria? What is the age of the mentee with whom I will be working? Do I have choices in that regard?

What closure steps will be available in case I need to end the relationship?
This could be for a number of reasons that include job transfers, personal and health issues or changing needs of the mentee.

How long can I expect between when I actually sign up and complete the application process and I am matched with a youth?

How is the program evaluated to measure expected outcomes?

Contact Dr. Mentor:

If you have other questions about becoming a mentor, you can contact Dr. Mentor directly at DrMentor@aol.com, or visit the Mentor Consulting Group website, http://mentorconsultinggroup.com

Become a Mentor!
To access a database of mentoring programs in your community that need volunteers, visit MENTOR’s web site, www.mentoring.org