Help a Kid, Help Yourself, Be A Mentor

be a mentorAs a kid I had severe asthma and, after one scary episode too many, my parents decided that due to the illness, I wouldn’t be participating in any team sports.

I’ve always felt strongly that I’d missed out on something important because of that.  So when I saw a flyer seeking mentors to participate in an afterschool activities program in my community, I decided to see what it was all about. I figured there had to be some kids who, like me, are unable to participate in an athletic program. I found myself wishing there’d been something like this when I was a kid.

So now I volunteer as a youth mentor at the recreation center in my hometown. Once a week I meet up with a small group of young men and spend a couple of hours doing different activities with them. We might shoot some hoops, get a bite to eat, or have a local professional come and talk about his career, just to name a few. The idea is to provide camaraderie for the kids while inspiring them to learn and grow, in a fun and welcoming environment.

Of course, my expectations were blown to bits at the moment I met the boys. They didn’t, how shall I say –exactly take to me right away.  They didn’t laugh at my jokes, they certainly didn’t trust me, and half of the time they didn’t even seem to be paying attention at all.  A relationship with these kids, I quickly realized, was one I was going to have to work at.  Would it be worth it? Just because I volunteered for a mentorship role didn’t mean a relationship would magically appear. As in any relationship, the qualities that truly make it rich must be earned. A bond has to be cultivated.

Instead of telling jokes and trying to be cool, I slowly earned respect by being dependable, listening to them, giving them my advice and encouragement, and genuinely caring about them. Sure, I wanted to roll my eyes when they complained about homework or girls- but I wasn’t there to be a judge or to point out how immature they were. As their mentor, my job was to lead by example, provide solid, thoughtful guidance, and above all, just be there for them when I said I would.

As I entered my second year knowing these boys, our relationship really started to take root.  For quite a while there it was a slow going. I encouraged them to talk and expressed an interest in their lives even though they were sometimes unengaged, uninterested and distant.  In a few months’ time they came around, and now I am proud to say that we have close, fruitful relationships.mentor

As a youth mentor, it’s hard to remain confident when the kids don’t react the way you want or expect them to. Mentorship can create situations that cause you to question your choices and leadership skills. For me, that comes in the form of disinterest and disobedience. When kids don’t respond to my efforts, or worse, disobey my rules, I re-evaluate and re-adjust my relationship with them. Though this is a hard lesson, it’s always important to remember that in your role as mentor, it is more important to be a good role model than it is to feel appreciated in the moment.  Maintaining a consistent leadership role will propel your relationship in the appropriate way and ultimately build trust.

Participating in a mentoring program has been an incredible experience, one that I want to continue for the rest of my life. It is challenging and fulfilling in a way that made me honestly feel I was getting back so much more than I was giving. The sense of accomplishment and pride I get from positively affecting a young person’s life is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.

Some of the specific benefits I get from mentoring include a sense of self-worth, a sense of feeling appreciated, and the satisfaction that comes along with actively doing my part in my community. A mentor is an adult companion who devotes time to a young person. Although we can fill any number of different roles, all mentors have the same basic goal: to help young people achieve their full potential.

Mentors do need to realize that they are not meant to replace a parent, guardian, teacher, or even coach. Nor is a mentor a disciplinarian. Instead, a mentor reinforces the positive values their parents and guardians have taught them A mentor is part of a team of adults who all pitch in to help care for the children.

A mentor’s main purpose is to help a young person define individual goals and find ways to achieve them. Since the expectations of each child vary, the mentor’s job is to encourage the development of a flexible relationship that responds to the mentor’s as well as the young person’s needs. When the right balance is struck, the potential for personal growth is huge.  And not just theirs!  I reap rewards from spending time with these kids every single day. It has made me a better man at work, at home, and in the community.

If you think you’d like to be a mentor, there are plenty of excellent programs out there to get involved in. Talk to local teachers, community leaders or clergy to find out about local offerings.

If you’re volunteering for a formal mentoring organization, like The Big Brother Big Sister program, you probably will be asked to go through an application process. As part of that process, you will supply personal and professional references, and most likely a background check will be performed. The Big Brother program also requires you to complete a personal interview. You’ll be responsible for maintaining the children’s safety and well-being while you’re with them, so you’ll also have to take part in an orientation and training course that will teach you the relevant skills before you start.

Mentor fearlessly! Be someone’s Hero!

This is a guest post from Matt Thames. He is a dude from Australia and is passionate about passing on his knowledge to the next generation. He’s also a blogger and Brand Manager for He enjoys writing about guy and techie stuff. If you’re interested in guest posting please read our guest posting policy here.

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  1. THANK YOU thank you thank you for doing this – I see the need even in the solid middle class area I live. Couldn’t imagine the need in a poor low income area. I support Big Bro/Big Sis with donations and wish to do more myself. Send me time!!

    • I am sure donations are a great help, but the time is the crucial need. The need for men to volunteer is in high demand! Any little bit of time you can give will help.

  2. What a great story. It’s always incredibly inspiring to hear someone turn their own hardships into a vehicle to help others. Thanks for sharing, and have a great weekend.

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