Why do I mentor?
It's quite simple. I'm in debt to those who mentored me.
Growing up in St. Louis, I was lucky to have several mentors that took me under their wing and helped me navigate humble beginnings. Others have worked diligently to help me accomplish what I have. It's my responsibility to offer the same to those that follow me.
I've always mentored, but now that I have a family and 1-year-old life is very busy. Luckily, mentor 2.0 with Big Brothers Big Sisters and Aspire Mentoring Academy provided the opportunity for e-mentoring, a technology-based program. It's my third year mentoring Antwan. We trade emails every week and meet in-person about every six weeks.
When I first met Antwan, he seemed to be the average student and pretty shy. I knew he had it in him to break out of his shell, but it can be frightening being a kid in a new town and at a new school. We worked on him being proud of his ability to make people smile.
And we talk about everything. From academics to family life, college plans to what's going on in school -- No topic is off limits between Antwan and me. I also try not to get on his case when he falls short of the expectations we've set for him through the mentoring program. Instead, I share my own struggles and challenges. I went back to school last summer and have shared the challenges of going to school three nights a week while maintaining the responsibilities of a family.
A little advice I'd give for those looking to get involved in mentoring:
- Be an example. Examples are better teachers than lectures. Following through on the promises I make to Antwan allows me to hold him accountable to the promises he makes to me.
- Be excited about your student, without expectation. As a mentor, you'll never know what you're going to get in your mentee. What you can be certain of is that the opportunity to positively impact their life is going to be there no matter who you are paired with. I had an idea of what I wanted as a mentee before meeting Antwan. I'm much happier with the student I was paired with than the student I'd imagined.
- Be yourself. If there's one thing that I would do differently, I wouldn't show up in a suit and tie the first day. I could tell that put Antwan off a little bit and I now understand it's better to show your mentee you're more normal than it sometimes seem. The next time it was jeans, a polo and tennis shoes.
- Be a better you. Mentoring should be a learning opportunity. If the learning is only in one direction, something's not going right. The relationship with Antwan and sharing those things that have allowed me to be successful is also a constant reminder of what's necessary for me to keep achieving in life. He's made me better!
I get back ten times what I've put in through mentoring. As for Antwan, his self-confidence has grown and he's flourishing as a student. He's in 11th grade now and visiting colleges while figuring out what his future holds. And he makes people smile. He's ready to take on the world.