Without a doubt, the decision to become a mentor has been one of the most impactful choices of my life, and I use the word impactful in the most positive way possible. Although the personal rewards have been meaningful (whether defined by personal growth or recognition), I think the reason I am so fulfilled by the experience is the measurable influence that I have had on another’s life.
U.S. Department of Justice Research shows that youth are five times more likely to graduate from high school if they have a meaningful relationship with an adult.
In today’s information environment, where an individual can be exposed to hundreds of articles per day that reference a seemingly endless collection of research and corresponding data, it’s easy to gloss over some of the statistics we encounter on a daily basis. I know that I am guilty of it from time to time; a 10% gain here, a 7% decrease there, some data are complimentary, some data conflict. All of this combined can make the mind numb to identifying what is truly significant.
So in case you might have missed it, let me repeat that first statement (with a little emphasis added this time):
U.S. Department of Justice Research shows that youth are FIVE TIMES more likely to graduate from high school if they have a meaningful relationship with an adult.
Now please take a moment to think about that statistic, a single factor that can increase the probability of success for a child by 500%. It’s almost too significant to comprehend, like someone telling me that I can run five times faster by eating spinach every day (and just to note, although spinach is very nutritious, I highly doubt that consuming it on a daily basis will make me the Popeye of speed).
The unfortunate side of this statistic, and the only reason it can exist, is that many children in our country (and many children in our community) do not have a meaningful relationship with an adult. This is an overwhelmingly depressing reality that burdens our teachers, our schools, and ultimately, our community.
However, a solution does exist to help solve this problem, and it’s called mentoring. Thankfully, here in South Bend, we have two outstanding organizations that provide volunteers the opportunity to mentor a child in a one to one relationship: Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Joseph County and the South Bend Education Foundation’s Mentoring Program. These two programs provide the structure and support needed for volunteers to positively influence the life of a child in our community.
Is mentoring a silver bullet that will solve all problems related to youth? Absolutely not. But is it a positive step towards improving the lives of youth in our community? Without a doubt. Mentoring has been shown to significantly improve academic performance, decrease violent behavior, and decrease drug and alcohol abuse in children that participate in mentoring programs. And anecdotally, I like to quote our Chief of Police, Ron Teachman (who himself is a mentor and a tireless advocate for mentoring in our community), who often says, “I have never met a child that has too many caring adults in his or her life.”
Personally, I have been involved as a mentor in Big Brothers Big Sisters for 9 years and the Education Foundation’s Mentoring Program for 5, and my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. The two young men I mentor are both outstanding individuals, and in addition to the rewards of seeing them succeed and improve in life, I have been able to grow and progress as an individual, particularly with respect to patience, gratitude, and compassion.
That’s not to say that mentoring does not come with its challenges. As is true in life, not every day is perfect, and not every situation has an ideal outcome. But the challenges can always be overcome, and the ultimate rewards are plentiful. Looking into the past, I would never change my decision to become a mentor. Looking into the future, I am increasingly optimistic about my life, the lives of the two young men I mentor, and the community as a whole.
Currently, between the two primary mentoring organizations, our community has 132 children waiting for a mentor. These are children who have been identified by teachers, counselors, guardians, and others as individuals who could significantly benefit from a one to one mentoring relationship.
For a volunteer, the commitment is as little as one hour a week. With the Education Foundation’s Mentoring Program, mentoring takes place in school over the lunch hour. With Big Brothers Big Sisters, mentoring can take place anytime that fits with both the mentor’s and mentee’s schedule.
I highly encourage all members of our community to both consider becoming a mentor and encourage someone they know to do the same. For more information on how to get involved, please visit www.MentorSouthBend.com.
The future is bright in South Bend, and what better way to promote an increasingly positive future for our community than by becoming a mentor.