A new year ushers in new opportunities to improve our lives and the world around us. While many focus on eating healthier, exercising more or spending less money, there is another option for a New Year’s resolution that could forever change your life and the life of a child.
Volumes of research show the benefits mentors provide a young person. A study from Big Brothers Big Sisters found children and teens who had mentors were less likely than their peers to use drugs or alcohol and were 32 percent less likely to act violently. Experts also say mentoring increases high school graduation rates, college aspirations and enrollment, all while building a young person’s confidence.
“Quality mentoring programs empower mentors and young people to show up for one another and experience the power of presence and relationship,” said David Shapiro, CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. “Mentoring holds the possibility to drive growth and opportunity and strengthen our communities and our nation.”
Mentoring programs offer options to mitigate potential mentors’ concerns about time, including the Big Couple program with Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“We were newly married. Our work schedules were very different. If anyone had an excuse that time was a factor, it would be us,” said Brooke Martin, who along with her husband, Cole, became a Big Couple to their Little, Da’Vion. “When you just take the plunge and say ‘yes’ and get involved, you find out time isn’t really an issue.”
Brooke and Cole chose the Big Couple program with Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Central Indiana because it offered them the chance to impact a child’s life together. Organizations around Indiana offer similar programs.
“We even (create couples mentoring teams) with mothers and sons, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters,” said Josette Rider, CEO for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana, headquartered in Fort Wayne.
Rider said taking the team approach to mentoring helps the child, too, by allowing him or her to see a positive relationship and the work it takes to keep that relationship going.
“They’re role models,” Da’Vion said. He said Brooke and Cole encourage him, teach him and simply welcome him into their daily lives.
“We have fun no matter what we’re doing,” Cole added. “It’s not like we have to carve out half a day to do something special every single week. It’s a good time regardless of what the agenda is.”
As technology advances, “e-mentoring” is gaining popularity. Already adopted by the business world, e-mentoring is quickly becoming a way to help students decide what to do after high school.
A report from MENTOR found that mentored youth set higher educational goals and are 55 percent more likely to attend college than peers without a mentor.
While using technology is allowing mentoring organizations to create additional connections for young people, MENTOR’s Shapiro says organizations need to ensure those relationships are just as impactful as face-to-face mentoring programs. Groups such as Strive for College incorporate video chat features that allow for face-to-face communication. The flexibility of e-mentoring allows adults to make a meaningful impact without impacting their work schedules.
Mentors come from every walk of life, and Rider stresses mentoring programs aren’t looking for perfection, either.
“We are not looking for people who haven’t made mistakes,” Rider said. “We’re looking for people who have really put those mistakes behind them and have a successful life and can really share that with a child. Sometimes those are some of our best mentors.”
January is National Mentoring Month. You can find a mentoring program near you at the Indiana Mentoring Partnership’s website, abetterhour.org.
“Regardless of the latest high profile social ill that we’re hearing about,” Rider says, “whether it’s pregnancy, drugs, meth, crime, murders – what we do know is what stands the test of time to combat those social ills is one caring individual spending time with a child who needs to see the best version of somebody, just for a few hours a month.”
That’s a small investment of time for such a big return. Invest. Volunteer. Be a mentor.