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Mentoring, in Difficult Times, Is Still a Valuable Commodity

By Martha Michael

The Value of Mentoring

Everyone remembers a special someone who helped them through a challenging time. It’s the big sister whose math skills meant you didn’t fail algebra or the basketball coach who became the father figure you never had. It’s that person who took you under his or her wing.

A mentor is the person who, rather than hand you a fish, teaches you how to cast your line and reel it in yourself. And regardless of which side you’re on -- mentor or mentee -- there’s a benefit for you in the process.

Value of Mentoring

Whether you’re a Boys and Girls Club volunteer or you hit balls with the neighbor kids every weekend, helping those around you is a form of mentoring that can be just as fun and rewarding for you as it is for the mentee. And it’s a gift that keeps on giving. The emotional support you gain from someone else is easily transferred to another when you are willing and able to reach out and lend a hand -- or experience -- to enrich another.

There is a breadth of value in a mentoring relationship, whether it’s structured for personal lifestyle support or professional advancement through networking and education. An advocate for expanding the practice of mentoring is the Human Resources Department at University of California, Davis. An article on the university’s website describes the type of synergy that can be developed through a mentoring relationship.

If you meet regularly with a mentor, you are likely to see benefits such as:

  • Support and guidance
  • Professional opportunities
  • Confidence boost
  • New approaches to work practices
  • A growing network of colleagues
  • Productive feedback

Though it’s reasonable to assume the mentor is in the relationship to give, not receive, there is plenty of return on the investment. Mentors sometimes miss the unseen benefits from the interaction. The process can:

  • Widen perspectives
  • Provide fulfillment
  • Develop understanding
  • Encourage alternative ideas
  • Hone leadership skills

Roadblocks to Mentoring

Because mentorship often means regular contact at a youth center, a public building, or in someone’s home, there are plenty of hurdles to overcome in a pandemic, from family responsibilities to illness. These bumps in the road affect disadvantaged kids more than others, so mentors who are committed to overcoming obstacles to continue providing support must think outside the box.

Expanding youth mentoring opportunities across diverse sectors of the population is at the heart of the nonprofit National Mentoring Partnership. The organization’s website has an article pointing out the differences between the support lower income kids have versus children with a wealth of resources. By prioritizing access to quality mentoring for the most vulnerable of society’s members, it builds healthier development nationwide and fosters greater connection across ethnic and economic groups.

The organization has harnessed the potential of mentoring in the workforce and education spaces, training managers, school employees, and district leaders. But with a year of social distancing measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization’s program, known as MENTOR, has made shifts in its protocols.

“As our physical routines are broken and movements are restricted, it can lead to us becoming trapped in an information overload and disconnected from relationships that provide so much we need in times like these,” says David Shapiro, MENTOR president and CEO. “It is important to balance being informed with recognizing and acting on our need to reach outward to the people in our communities so we are there for each other.”

The nonprofit organization conducted a survey of mentoring programs and found that:

  • 86 percent of program leaders say that access to technology is curbing the ability to conduct their programs virtually.
  • 90 percent have an interest in establishing an e-mentoring platform if it’s free of charge.
  • 88 percent of mentoring programs are seeking technical support to continue communication between mentors and mentees.

With experts in the field, MENTOR developed the Virtual Mentoring Portal, a monitored platform for mentors and mentees to maintain a connection while remaining socially distant for the sake of safety. A tool designed for youths age 13 and older, the online portal includes internal email, an opportunity for more structured communication, as well as specific content. In the first week of its launch in 2020, the Virtual Mentoring Portal served 40,000 youth. Clearly, there’s a need. MENTOR also partnered with global education company Cricket Together to create an effective e-Mentoring portal for kids younger than 13.

With the current suspension of normal togetherness, it’s even more important to communicate when possible. You don’t have to meet in a physical space to procure the advantages of the give and take for both mentors and mentees. While it’s not ideal, even the intimate training new parents receive from postpartum doulas and lactation specialists can be conveyed effectively through electronics. Coaches praise their team members and Oscar winners thank their drama coaches. Mentoring is a mutually beneficial experience, and the show must go on whether a child needs a shoulder to cry on or a young professional is having trouble with intensive training. Taking your program to the internet or finding another creative format will make sure everyone reaps the rewards.

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