Celebrating mentors

This month marks the 12th anniversary of National Mentoring Month. In his recent proclamation, President Barack Obama, fully recognizing the impact of a mentoring relationship on young person said, “Our American family is bound together by caring individuals who make it their mission to serve others. During National Mentoring Month, we pay special tribute to the men and women who enrich the lives of our young people and fortify the unbreakable bonds between one generation and the next. A supportive mentor can mean the difference between struggle and success.”

Too many children lack strong and sustained relationships with caring and nurturing adults. Without these connections, young people are more vulnerable to poor school attendance, decreased academic performance, and inappropriate or “risky” behaviors such as alcohol abuse, drug abuse, or promiscuous sexual experimentation. Responsible and caring adults help them recognize there is someone “out there” who cares for them and is willing to show them alternate paths to take and alternative futures to strive for and attain. Mentors have the unique opportunity to open new horizons for their matches as they explore worlds of discovery, improve their self-esteem, and increase their independence.By the same token, mentors themselves are enriched and rewarded in ways never imagined, by giving freely of their own time and talents. As Pam Holmberg expressed it, “My heart is full for mentoring. More and more I see the value that this program brings. So often I wish that I were doing more because I see the need. To be invited into the life of another is an honor.”

Nationally, there are upwards of 18 million young Americans waiting for that special person to walk into their lives. Chautauqua Striders currently has 95 matched youth but there are many more who still ask, “Can I have a mentor?” Chautauqua Striders’ mentoring programs have been able to put together very successful matches. To date, the average school-based (interaction takes place during school lunch periods) mentoring pair lasts 21 months, far surpassing the national average of 5.6 months. Additionally, community-based (interaction takes place after school hours) relationships last on average 37 months, compared to the national average of nine months.

Statistically, according to a study by Big Brothers, Big Sisters, children in these relationships are 52 percent less likely to skip school than their peers and 37 percent less likely to skip class. Students do not just decide to drop out of school one day but rather, their decision is based on a culmination of disappointment and disengagement. Children between 9 and 15 are most likely to be at a turning point in their lives and mentoring during these years can have a significant impact on their futures. According to an interesting article by Colin Beavan, Ph.D., human brains evolved to raise children in groups; there is a biological need to nurture. He hypothesizes that, “isn’t it possible most of us would feel better by helping each other, by using our brains for what they were designed for social relatedness and helping each other get through this thing called life.”

Chautauqua Striders spends nearly $1,400 per year on each mentoring match for recruitment, screening, training, group activities, and relationship monitoring. Mentors are well supervised; everyone receives adequate training and support, as he or she accepts responsibility for being with a child on a regular basis. On a broader scale and prompted by the Corporate Mentoring Challenge, companies are being asked to step up by encouraging their employees to get involved and they are providing opportunities for them to do so within the work day.

Recognizing the need for strong and positive adult role models for children and youth of all ages is nothing less than a priority, mentoring has become one of the fastest growing facets of Chautauqua Striders. Beginning in 1993, programs have flourished in Jamestown, and have now spread to various other school districts in Chautauqua County. However, mentors are very much needed in every locale. The time spent with a young person is relatively short but the rewards for both mentor and “mentee” can be beyond measure!

For more information or for ways to contribute to mentoring programs, log onto SERVE.gov/MENTOR, www.mentoring.org or www.chautauqua-striders.org or call Chautauqua Striders Mentoring, located at the Raymond J. Fashano Technology Academy, at 483-4384 and ask for Amanda Gesing, Lorraine Walker or Alex Caldwell.