Be a Mighty Mentor: Five Ways to Connect with Youth

TaylorTaylor C. kept to herself and barely spoke to anyone when she began attending Boys & Girls Clubs of the Ocoee Region, which serves 3200 members via 14 Club sites in Bradley, Meigs, Monroe and Polk County, Tennessee.

“I made it a mission to get to know Taylor and see if I could get her to open up,” said Isabel Carapia, Unit Director of the Club’s Madisonville Teen Center Unit, who began checking in with Taylor regularly and bonded with the teen over their favorite music artists.

In early January, the Club partnered with Ever After Bridal & Formal Wear and Lee University’s Big Pal Little Pal mentoring program to produce the Seeing is Believing Prom Fashion Show. Though at first reluctant to participate, Taylor warmed to the idea of modeling when Isabel helped her select the perfect bright blue dress to wear down the runway.

“When she got all dressed up, I saw this glow on her face. She took the stage and made it her own,” Isabel said. “I talked to her mother during the show, and she thanked me because her daughter had been more active and seemed happier. She saw a change in her child, and she knew it was because of the Club.”

When caring adult mentors take the time to have authentic conversations with youth to understand their passions, interests and ambitions – it can make a critical difference. According to MENTOR, young people who meet regularly with a mentor are 55 percent more likely to enroll in college, 78 percent more likely to volunteer regularly and 130 percent more likely to hold leadership positions.

“We know that a one-on-one relationship with someone that challenges you and asks you hard questions, or just acts as a listening ear, can change the direction of a kid’s life,” said Derrick Kinsey, chief executive officer of Boys & Girls Clubs of the Ocoee Region.

The Club’s mentoring program, called Great Futures, utilizes a tracking system where Club staff and volunteer mentors report weekly on interactions they’ve had with Club members so that any mentor can have meaningful, informed conversations with the young people they serve.

The Club also runs a mentoring program for boys, called ANDOR.

“Our prisons are filled with a lot of men that were lacking mentors in their life or a father figure,” Derrick said. “ANDOR was created to have men come in and speak into the lives of our young men and guide them through specific skill development.”

ANDOR teaches life skills to young boys and teens in the program, such as business and communication, home repair and cooking.

“Mentors are champions for our youth,” said Valerie Killebrew, senior director of youth development programs at Boys & Girls Clubs of America. “The guidance, encouragement, and positive experiences they provide inspire confidence in our young people and enable them to build a strong foundation for a healthy, productive life.”

Mentorship relationships aren’t just beneficial for young people. Mentors can expand their personal and professional networks through mentoring and experience satisfaction and joy from helping youth thrive.

Here are five ways you can support positive youth development as a mentor, adapted from Boys & Girls Clubs and Youth Centers Mentoring Toolkit: Positive Youth-Adult Partnerships Nurture Thriving Youth:

  1. Commit: Contact your local Club to find out their requirements for mentors. Making meaningful connections with young people takes time, and it’s important that you show up regularly and model safe, healthy positive attitudes and behaviors.
  2. Listen: Listen carefully to what mentees want to share and withhold judgement or critique. Effective mentors help mentees feel respected and heard by creating a safe and positive environment.
  3. Have fun!: Pick fun activities to engage your mentees, like foursquare or a game of chess. When mentors and mentees share experiences, they develop a stronger, more impactful positive relationship.
  4. Connect to new opportunities: Introduce your mentee to new opportunities, such as arranging for an employer or college visit or hosting a workshop on a topic of interest to youth. Through these avenues and others, mentors can help mentees have a deeper understanding of their interests, passions and understand expectations that might apply in different areas of their life.
  5. Support and empower: Acknowledge your mentee’s accomplishments. In order for recognition to contribute most to a young person’s self-esteem and self-worth, it should be specific and intentional. This shows the young person their actions were noticed and appreciated by a caring adult, which can make a lasting impression.

Be a champion for youth and #InvestInKids by becoming a mentor. Mentoring relationships are powerful tools for connection and are critical to our country’s future. Find a Club near you to get involved: http://bgca.org/findaclub