If you follow me on Instagram and watch my stories, then by now, you probably know that I have been mentoring an 11-year old girl since the beginning of the year. I’ve been asked a lot of questions about it, so I thought I would tell you about the best part of my week!
Why I Became a Mentor
I decided to become a mentor in Spring 2016 in the midst of the utterly depressing and horrible primary season. I was feeling really down about the things some of the politicians were saying, and I was worried about how kids from minority backgrounds, impoverished families, immigrant backgrounds, etc would feel. I was really struggling to rectify what they were saying with what I grew up believing about the country I grew up in. But, since AJ has yet to agree to move overseas, it looks like I’ll be in America for awhile. Therefore, I decided I needed to do something to make a difference at home – even if it only helped one person.
How I Became a Mentor
I started looking into different mentoring programs and was a little overwhelmed by the different types of mentorships and their requirements. At the time I applied, I was teaching a ton of barre classes, working a lot of overtime, and of course, traveling. While I would have loved to commit to a mentorship program like Big Brothers Big Sisters or Boys and Girls Club, the time commitment (several hours multiple days a week) didn’t feel realistic to me. I really wanted to be consistent and be able to be there for my mentee, and I hated the idea of having to cancel. For me, it made sense to start small and add more time if I had it available. I found a program called Mentor Upstate that works with schools in the upstate counties of South Carolina and knew it was the right fit. You commit to eating lunch (half an hour) once a week with a child at a school that is convenient to your work or home. That’s it. Mentors are free to add on extra time if they choose to, but it’s not required. So, I applied to the program and then attended a one-hour training session. I had two background checks done (only one is required, but I became a “Level 2” volunteer so that I could work with my student one on one. After that, it was time to wait to be matched! Unfortunately, due to repeated changes in the school system staff, that took a long time. I didn’t get matched until January 2017, but I’m told that’s not at all common.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was really nervous about becoming a mentor. I am obviously not a parent, so I wondered what kids even do or like! I was a weird, nerdy, and very “adult” kid even when I was very small, and I had a hard time connecting to other kids my age sometimes. If it was hard as a kid, how hard would it be as an adult? I asked my friends who were parents what we should talk about, and I picked out my outfit so carefully on that first day! As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about (and yes, asking kids about their pets is a great way to get a conversation going).
What Types of Kids Do Mentors Help?
As I learned in training, all different types of kids need mentoring! Basically, any kid that could use a little extra attention from an adult is eligible. Some students may have difficulties at home: their parents may be going through a divorce, they may have recently lost a family member, they may be in foster care, etc. Others are struggling to make friends in class, experiencing behavioral issues, or are struggling with a learning disability that makes it challenging to concentrate. Some kids – like my student – just need a little extra help with their school work in order to catch up. There are all different reasons! I’ve been fortunate to get to know many of the kids in my student’s class, and they are all fantastic kids.
What Do You Do While You’re There?
In theory, I could go eat lunch with my student once a week and just talk to her – that’s all mentoring requires, and for some students, it may be exactly what they need. After spending a few hours with my student, I learned that she needs academic assistance in reading and spelling because her family is non-English speaking at home. Although she speaks English fluently, she has a hard time learning new words because her only exposure to English is at school. So, I spoke to her teacher to come up with a plan of action. Now, I go at least once a week (sometimes twice) to have lunch with her, and then we work on reading and spelling for half an hour to 45 minutes. I’m not a teacher, so I’m not doing anything groundbreaking – we just read books to each other and I help her with her spelling exercises. Some kids might just need someone to talk to, while some may need more help on the academic side of things.
How Long Does it Last?
Mentor Upstate encourages mentors to develop long-term relationships with their students. While you officially commit to mentoring a child through one school year, some mentors stick with their student all the way through high school. While mentoring during the summer is not required, it is an option if you are interested and your child’s parents agree to it. I’m definitely planning on sticking with my student for as long as I can, and we are working out plans to meet up this summer!
What Difference Does it Make?
One thing that was impressed upon us in training is how important undivided attention from an adult who cares can be to a child. For kids from volatile home situations, or even just kids whose parents work long hours and are not around a lot, a caring adult who pays attention to them can mean the world. My student comes from an amazing, hardworking, and tight knit family, but she struggles in some areas at school. Having someone there to work with her on areas where she has a hard time, in a non-threatening environment, helps develop her confidence.Make a difference in a child's life and become a mentor! @thetrexrunner did and it's the best part of her week. Click To Tweet
One recent moment really stands out to me. A few weeks ago, I went to mentoring on our usual day (Tuesday) and noticed that Field Day was the following day. Way back when I first started mentoring in January/February, I told my student that I would come to Field Day if she wanted me to. So, when I asked her the day before Field Day if she was excited about the next day’s activities, she said “Yes! I can’t wait! You’re coming, right? You said you would!” “Of COURSE!” I said, and she beamed. It was at that moment that I realized that my commitment to her and my promises really matter. To all of these kids, having someone who is there for them and keeps their word is important. It means even more to them than better grades on their homework and tests!
I can virtually guarantee that there is a program like Mentor Upstate somewhere near you, and I can’t encourage you enough to look into it! Meeting with my student is truly the best part of my week, and I love learning about her life and seeing her grow and increase her confidence. You don’t have to be a tutor, a savior, a social worker, a bank or a parent…you just have to be there!
LEAVE A COMMENT: Have you ever mentored? Does it sound like something that would interest you?