By Kim St. John-Stevenson
“It is projected that 16 million young people, including 9 million at-risk young people, will reach adulthood without connecting with a mentor of any kind.” – The Mentoring Project
Having recently learned January was National Mentoring Month, I’ve done a lot of reflecting and had more than a few conversations on what it means to be a mentor. Over the years, at every stage of my life, I’ve had personal and professional mentors. When I was in high school and college. Throughout my career. When I became an entrepreneur. Without question, I would not be who I am today were it not for the guidance of so many who were willing to take time away from their own lives to be an important part of mine.
Today, I am “paying it forward” with several mentees of my own. These young women are starting their young adult lives and it is my privilege to be there for them when they need advice. Or constructive criticism. Or even tough love. My mentees both have bright futures – and given the right opportunities and a strategic life plan, they will go far. Part of my mentoring mission is to gently push them forward so they become the best they can be.
I asked one of my mentees why having a mentor is important, and she shared these words:
Mentors are critical components on your journey to adulthood, establishing yourself in college, and in your career. It is important to have a mentor because you need someone who isn’t a family member or friend, who can give you unbiased criticism and advice. It’s also important to have a mentor who is highly passionate about what you are passionate about so you are able to see firsthand what it takes to do or be exactly what you want to be.
I couldn’t agree more. Neither can MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, which “conducted a groundbreaking survey last summer with young people ages 18-21 on the topic of mentoring. Shared broadly across the Internet, the survey results reveal a powerful mentoring effect demonstrated by the life experiences of the young people surveyed and mentoring’s link to improved academic, social and economic prospects. This mentoring effect is growing and, if harnessed, it has the potential to help meet a range of national challenges and strengthen our communities and economy.
However, “despite positive trends, the survey shows one in three young people are at-risk of reaching adulthood without connecting with a mentor of any kind. This finding suggests a systemic shift to leverage quality mentoring programs to introduce mentors to young people who face a greater number of risk factors is a powerful and necessary strategy.”
Those at-risk youth are a focus of YWCA Greater Cleveland’s “A Place 4 Me” Program, noted Kate Lodge, Program Director of the initiative. Not actually a physical place, A Place 4 Me is an idea that all youth, especially that at risk of homelessness and those in transition from the welfare system, need coordinated efforts to improve their outcomes in the areas of housing, employment, education, permanency, physical and mental health, and financial stability.
“One of the goals of the child welfare system is to find a permanent family for each youth who is unable to be reunified with their birth families. But sometimes this does not happen and youth age out of foster care without a permanent legal connection. Those youth who age out are statistically at a higher risk of incarceration, homelessness, early parenting, and unemployment.
“In our community planning, we identified mentoring is something needed for youth who don’t have a permanent connection. There are very few existing mentoring programs for young adults who at the age of 18 are on their own. But there are shining examples of devoted mentors and some exciting models that are emerging. I have heard of mentors helping with finding housing for a young person, helping them get an ID card, a driver’s license, accompanying them to the grocery store, helping them balance their budgets, advocating with the young person for benefits…the list goes on. I think of my own “grown” children and I know the questions related to living in this world can seem so basic. We take for granted what goes into making grown-ups,” Lodge said.
So, yes, mentoring really matters. In fact, right here in the Central neighborhood, 35 “Central Scholars” have been matched with adult mentors. But if you need further validation that mentoring works, check out the infographic below. Then give serious thought to how you can make a difference in someone’s life through mentoring.
Kim St. John-Stevenson is a communications consultant with Ink+ LLC, a strategic marketing communications firm. She has deep experience with YWCA Greater Cleveland – she has been an Early Learning Center parent and a member of the organization’s board of trustees. In her present role as consultant, Kim supports the marketing communications efforts of the organization in print and online.