January is National Mentoring Month, with January 25 marking "Thank Your Mentor Day." According to the Harvard School of Public Health, 15 million young people in the United States are in need of a mentor.
Have you ever thought about mentoring? You've probably heard that mentor programs help decrease youth violence, lessen drug abuse, reduce the high school dropout rate, and help send thousands of young people to college each year. This evidence alone could be what motivates you to call up your local nonprofit today and sign up as a mentor. However, for those of you still sitting on the fence, you may want to know that mentoring not only helps a young person advance in their life, but it also helps you.
Jenni Luke, executive director of Step Up Women's Network, enjoying the day with a Step Up Teen in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Maya Myers.
Step Up Women's Network
Tasha Oldham, filmmaker and founder of My Story Inc., is a mentor to aspiring filmmaker Nicole Tut, a 17-year-old high school senior in Los Angeles. Tasha was given the opportunity to mentor Nicole through Step Up Women's Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to connecting professional women with underserved teen girls. The mentoring program, called Young Luminaries, is a six-month, one-on-one partnership. Right now Tasha is helping Nicole prep for an upcoming paid summer internship, and ultimately, her dream career.
"Since we've started working together, I have seen a change in Nicole's confidence, her ability to articulate her needs, a change in the way she carries herself and her belief in herself," said Tasha in an interview with me. "The dirty little secret in service is that we think it is so selfless of us to serve, but we are really the ones being served. It's really me who is learning," said Tasha.
Nicole Tut (on left) says that interacting with the women at Step Up has literally brought her back to life. "The insight that I receive from my mentor Tasha (on right) allows me to see my future in a positive way instead of being fearful to approach it," she says. Photo courtesy of Step Up Women's Network.
Step Up, with centers in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, secures paid internships for the teen girls through their network of professional women. Most of the girls live at the federal poverty level and are the first in their family to go to college.
Another mentor program for teen girls in Los Angeles that I have been inspired by is called WriteGirl. This nonprofit pairs professional women writers -- from songwriters, to playwrights, to journalists, to executives in corporate communications -- with teen girls to explore the power of writing. "When you hear what comes from the pen of a 15-year-old, it inspires your own writing," said Susanne Ferrull, a former journalist and current public relations professional, who has been a WriteGirl mentor for eight years.
I first learned about WriteGirl last October at Maria Shriver's Women's Conference when WriteGirl was awarded a Medal for Service as the 2010-2011 California Nonprofit of the Year. At the conference I met Ali, an 18-year-old WriteGirl graduate, who told me that her mentorship helped her not just in English classes, but helped her articulate her ideas in math and science classes. "It helped me take writing and make something so simple as math interesting, and fun, and poetic," she told me.
When I spoke with Keren Taylor, executive director of WriteGirl, she told me that when she first met Ali, Ali was really shy. This is clearly not the case now. "To see her be so incredibly articulate five years later, that's what gets me up every morning -- to see what WriteGirl does for young women," said Keren.
Keren Taylor, executive director of WriteGirl, and Ali, WriteGirl graduate, at The Women's Conference 2010. Photo by Tabby Biddle.
You don't need special skills to become a mentor
Many people think that in order to be mentor, you need to have a special set of skills. The reality is that to be a mentor, you don't need special skills, you just need an ability to listen and to offer friendship, guidance and encouragement. As Jenni Luke, executive director of Step Up Women's Network says, "All you have to be is an expert in your own story."
Yosselin Melgar (on right), a senior at Los Angeles Leadership High school, has been involved with Step Up since her freshman year. She says that she has always dreamed of being a corporate businesswoman, and that because of Step Up she is on her way. She is pictured here with her internship mentor Shannon Gabor of Clever Creative Design Agency in Venice, Calif. "If I was not part of Step Up, I would probably be like the other girls who do not value education and the power of women," Yosselin says. Photo courtesy of Step Up Women's Network.
Mentoring doesn't require as much time as you may think
Most people think that being a mentor requires a lot of time and don't want to do it because they already have very busy lives. It's true, some mentor opportunities require a weekly commitment, which may be time that you don't have right now. Both Step Up and WriteGirl, however, offer different levels of mentoring opportunities so that women with limited time can still have an opportunity to mentor. For example, last month I was given the opportunity to mentor a Step Up teen for a day. We focused the day on my mentee's career dreams. As I asked Sophia questions about her interests, passions, and gifts, and listened intently to her responses, I witnessed Sophia gain more authority and pride in her talents as she spoke. I know from the experience that one day can truly make a difference. Even in just that short amount of time, I saw a boost in Sophia's confidence.
You will learn and grow
It's not just your mentee who will learn and grow. You will too. According to Step Up mentor Shannon Gabor: "Being a mentor is the most inspiring thing you could do because not only are you giving back, you get such a sense of self-worth on your own end, feeling like you are inspiring someone and having an affect on the rest of their life."
If you are still sitting on the fence, I'd like to offer you 10 reasons to become a mentor.
10 Reasons to Become a Mentor
1. You will help your mentee build confidence and self-esteem.
2. You will help your mentee build her communications skills so that she can express her ideas.
3. You will help your mentee see that her voice is important and that she matters.
4. You will help your mentee see her gifts; you will help nurture those gifts; and you will help her get into college.
5. You will help your mentee see that her dreams are possible.
6. You will constantly be inspired by your mentee.
7. You will improve your communication skills.
8. You will get so much satisfaction from seeing your mentee learn and grow.
9. You will have a mirror held up to you so that you can see your own potential.
10. You will start to believe in your own gifts.
With one week of January left, and 15 million young people still in need of a mentor, there's no time like the present.
To find out about Step Up mentor opportunities, please visit www.suwn.org.
To find out about WriteGirl mentor opportunities, please visit www.writegirl.org
To find out about mentoring opportunities in your community, visit www.nationalmentoringmonth.org.
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