Questions about mentoring? Below are the answers to some of the most commonly asked ones.
Mentoring is a committed relationship between an adult and a youth focused on developing the character and capabilities of the young person. By definition, a mentor means a wise and trusted friend and guide. Mentoring, whether it is informal or formal, is a wonderful way for caring adults to make a positive difference in a young person’s life. The presence of multiple caring adults offering support, advice, friendship, reinforcement, and constructive examples proves to be a powerful tool for helping young people fulfill their potential.
A mentor may be:
- A Friend
- A Reliable Listener
- A Helper with Homework
- A Trustworthy Confidant
- A Role Model or a Coach
A mentor is NOT:
- A Parent/Guardian/Foster Parent
- A Therapist
- A Cool Peer
- A Parole Officer
- An ATM
- A Taxi Cab
- A Savior
Valuable research suggests that quality mentoring programs implement nationally recognized best practice standards based on research, experience, and evidence of positive outcomes.
Before becoming a mentor, there are a few things to understand about the role of mentoring. Most of us have had a teacher, supervisor, or coach who has been a mentor to us and made a positive difference in our lives. Those people wore many hats: acting as role models, cheerleaders, policy enforcers, advocates, and friends. Mentors assume these different roles during the course of a relationship and share some basic qualities:
- A sincere desire to be involved with a young person
- Respect for young people
- Active listening skills
- Ability to see solutions and opportunities
You do not need a background in education or youth development to be effective. Mentors and youth may decide together what they want to do when they meet. For other, more structured mentoring programs, such as school or group-based programs, guidelines for meeting times and activities are laid out by the program.
MENTOR Greater Milwaukee believes all children have the potential to succeed in life and contribute to society, but not all children get the support they need to thrive. Most mentoring programs have a waiting list of youth who want to be matched with a mentor. There is an especially critical need for more male and ethnically diverse mentors.
We believe both mentors and mentees benefit from the mentoring relationship. We’ve received feedback from many mentors who have told us that they have gained just as much from the mentoring relationship as the youth they have mentored. Some of these benefits have included:
- Feeling valued
- Learning more about themselves
- Improving their self-esteem and feeling they are making a difference
- Gaining a better understanding of other cultures and developing a greater appreciation for diversity
- Feeling more productive and having a better attitude at work
- Enhancing their relationships with their own children
Above all, a good mentor is willing to take the time to get to know their mentee, to learn new things that are important to the young person, and even to be changed by their relationship.
Depending on the program you choose to volunteer with, the time commitment varies. Community-based programs typically ask volunteers to meet at least 6–8 hours a month for at least a year to develop the relationship. School-based programs meet on-site during the school calendar year.
Like many things in life, patience is a virtue in mentoring! Often, a mentor eagerly wants to observe dramatic results in a short period of time, but it takes time to see positive results. It is important to remember that no matter what the immediate outcomes are, your time and presence in a young person’s life make a difference because it shows them that they are a valued member of the community.
Mentoring experiences come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Sometimes youth are mentored informally through a natural connection between themselves and a caring adult, like a relative, a next door neighbor, a teacher or coach, or someone through their place of worship. There are also formal mentoring opportunities where there is a connection between a caring adult and a young person through an organized, mentoring-focused program.
- One-to-one mentoring is the most often recognized mentoring relationship. This type of experience pairs one adult and one youth to form a friendship.
- Team mentoring is a group of at least two adults working together to mentor a young person(s).
- Group mentoring is one adult volunteer building relationships with a group of young people. This can include scouting programs.
- Family mentoring can mean two different things. One definition involves the whole family in mentoring a young person. Another definition means there are opportunities for individuals or groups of individuals to mentor a family.
- E-mentoring allows mentors to exchange e-mails with young people via the Internet. This type of mentoring usually involves a partnership between a business and school.
- Long-term commitment refers to a mentoring relationship that lasts a year or longer. This type of commitment is the most beneficial for a young person.
- Short-term commitment refers to a relationship that lasts less than a year.
Just like how mentoring experiences can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, mentoring can take place in a variety of settings. Here are some of the most common settings, as well as some of the activities that take place in each setting:
- Engage in more social activities
- Have more contact with youth’s family or guardian
- More effective in affecting social outcomes
- Usually sponsored by community organization
- Engage in more academic activities
- Have more contact with teacher
- More effective in affecting school outcomes
- Usually sponsored by school
- Engage in more academic-oriented activities
- Have more contact with agency
- More effective in affecting academic outcomes
- Usually sponsored by workplace and nonprofit partner
- Engage in more activities with a faith-based theme integrated into activities
- Have more contact with faith leader
- More effective in affecting social and spiritual outcomes
- Usually sponsored by faith organization
Find a mentoring program near you by searching on the Mentoring Connector. The Mentoring Connector is a free service that helps quality youth mentoring programs across the country recruit more local volunteers while greatly increasing visibility for their organizations. Through the Mentoring Connector, you can search for mentoring opportunities by zip code, ages of youth served, and program type to find and contact a program that interests you.