One of the most important things an adult can do is mentor a young person. My own mentoring efforts stemmed from a desire to make a difference in the world. It was after a failed relationship when my mother recommended dedicating my time to something positive that would help others and also expose me to likeminded people. By the way, one of the flaws in my failed relationship was that there was nothing going in my life besides my significant other at that time, which is usually a recipe for disaster. My current belief about romantic relationships is that people should have their own activities and passions before getting together with someone else.
My newfound desire to make a difference led me to three programs:
• Higher Achievement
• The Intervention, Prevention and Education Program of Northern Virginia (IPE)
• Concerned Black Men (CBM)
At the time all three programs were actively seeking volunteers. Higher Achievement, where most of my time was ultimately spent, was advertised through the University of Michigan’s Greater Washington DC Alumni Club. IPE and CBM were onsite and seeking volunteers for Michael Baisden’s mentoring campaign in the fall of 2011 at Howard University.
No matter what your motivations are for becoming a mentor, the following are some important considerations:
• Mentoring programs and opportunities vary. Some programs involve working independently with a young person one on one (IPE). Others are specific organizations such as CBM who have distinct chapters which require its volunteers to not only mentor, but also hold offices within that chapter and in some cases nationally. Programs such as Higher Achievement have standardized programming and curricula, and just need the mentors to show up and participate, while other programs do not.
• Consider where your talents will be best suited. Think about your own assets, background, and pedigree and determine where they will have the most impact. Not every young person will be able to receive what you have to offer. One of my own mentors recommended that my skill sets would be put to best use trying to mentor young people who are already on a path towards success, and have an aptitude for science for example. He was of the opinion that working with “at risk” youth with the propensity for deviant behaviors were not the best use of my skills and experiences.
• Remember what it was like being a young person. Young people often say and do silly things, and that’s a part of being a young person. They may do these things often because they’re missing something at home (or because that’s the culture in their home). If you’re mentoring them regularly though, chances are they’re watching and listening to you and you’ll be surprised about what they’ve actually learned from you after a while.
• Sometimes there is only so much you can do. Depending on the young person (s) you’re working with, you by yourself may not be able to overcome their circumstance or undo what they’ve been taught or not taught at home. In one program, three of my mentees couldn’t keep themselves out of trouble long enough for me to help them. In some cases it’s also really important to communicate regularly with the parents.
• Look into deducting your mentoring expenses on you taxes. Under the current tax code, the IRS allows the deduction of certain volunteer expenses. If you’re volunteering as a mentor, keep records of your expenses and talk to your tax person about deducting them to potentially lower your tax bill, and or increasing the size of your refund.
Whatever your motivations are for mentoring, remember that it’s all about the mentee. My two biggest areas of growth from my mentoring experiences were patience and understanding. Puberty starts a period of tremendous growth and development which is different for everyone. One of the hardest parts for any mentor volunteering their time and resources is when the mentee seems unappreciative which can happen. Once again though, you don’t know what has sunk in or what they’ve learned from you until afterwards, sometimes years later.