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Robin Christenson: Capital Region Sponsor-A-Scholar, January 2018

January is National Mentoring Month, which is fitting for the beginning of the year. It is a season of new starts and resolutions, and a great time for both mentors and potential mentees to begin a mentoring relationship. Many times, people want to work with kids, but don’t know where to start. Mentoring is a rewarding way to volunteer. There are many programs across our region that offer people opportunities to mentor children of all ages. Often, young people want and need help, but they don’t know who or how to ask for it.

Mentors are a critical ingredient in a young person’s success as each begins his or her journey. Many of us can point to a person in our past who served as a mentor either in an official capacity or an unofficial one who made a positive difference in our lives. Someone who listened, cared and nudged us at a time when we needed it most. Someone who was funny or sympathetic or knowledgeable. Someone who was reliable and honest. Those are the qualities of a good mentor, and qualities that many of us have.

We can all agree that young people today face even more challenges than more established folks did as we navigated the wilds of high school, college and our early careers. There are more options now, which is both a blessing and a curse. Young people also face the pressures of social media, which can be completely overwhelming.

Too often young people are stymied by too many choices, but see no clear path forward. They may know that they want to pursue a college degree or a particular career, but not know where to begin. Google can only take you so far. This is where the mentor comes in. A mentor helps a young person know their own mind. They don’t tell someone what to do or think, but they help them understand themselves better and help hold them accountable to themselves. They sometimes connect a young person to internships or even jobs. Most often, a mentor serves as a guide, a cheerleader and, occasionally, a teacher. But mentors are never a replacement for a parent and they’re not a policeman either.

Mentors may help students explore the world by offering new opportunities like job shadowing, attending cultural or sports events or visiting museums. They may serve as coaches for a specific skill or sport. Some programs pair mentors with younger children who are just learning to read and may need additional time and support to build those skills. Very often, mentors tell us that they gain as much from the experience as their mentee. They build empathy and understanding and gain a stronger sense of confidence and accomplishment, just as they foster those same feeling in their mentee. Mentoring strengthens our communities and is one important ingredient in building a brighter future for our young people.

A mentor, named Justin, recently told me: “Most kids don’t need a ton of help--they just need a little time.” And it’s true! Kids need attention; they need to know that someone is listening and cares. Mentoring might be a few hours a week or month, but your investment will pay dividends in ways you can’t even imagine.

National research highlights the many benefits of mentoring for mentees. They are 55 percent more likely to enroll in college, 78 percent more likely to volunteer. Amazingly, 90 percent of young people who have a mentor show interest in becoming mentors themselves.

In my work as Capital Region Sponsor-A-Scholar’s executive director, I see this firsthand. We now have alumni from our program who are coming back and guiding the next generation of students. It is truly a wonderful thing, and is the best reason I can give to anyone considering becoming a mentor. You are not just changing one life, you’re creating a legacy of caring that will carry on for future generations.

Robin Christenson is the executive director of Capital Region Sponsor-A-Scholar.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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