Did you know that January is National Mentoring Month?
In 2002, President George W. Bush declared January to be an annual reminder encouraging volunteers to become involved in a youth mentoring program. The annual event is spearheaded by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Corporation for National and Community Service.
I became involved in a local mentoring program several years ago that focused on helping at risk teens become productive members of society, and I can attest to how incredible the experience can be.
I taught a class to a group of 3 students on re-entering the job market; we talked about how to prepare a resume and had mock interviews, etc. If the students finished the program, they were guaranteed job placement — my class was held once a week for 12 weeks.
One of the students was “Greg,” a young man who suffered from bi-polar disorder and who’d walked in on his brother’s suicide 6 months prior. Since his brother’s death, he had been holed up in his grandmother’s home — he only came out of his room, where he’d covered the windows in black plastic so no light would come in, to get something to eat when he was hungry. I’m not sure how he was persuaded to be part of the program, but he came.
And that’s about all he did. He did not take part in any of the exercises; instead he just stared (actually, “glared” would be a more accurate description) for the first four classes, arms folded, daring me to “make” him participate. I cut him some slack, but by the 4th week, I knew we were going to have to have a chat.
After class was over, I asked to speak with him, and I said, “Greg, I know you’ve been through hell, and I’ve tried to give you some leeway to get used to class. But the thing is, if you don’t start participating, I’m not going to be able to pass you and you won’t be placed in a job.
I wasn’t sure if he even cared about getting a job at that point, but I thought I’d throw that out there. The next week he came back; he’d bought some of the supplies I asked the students to purchase, and from that point on, he was fully engaged. He became the funniest, most out going kid in the class and he soon landed a job. One year later, he enlisted in the Army and is thriving – we still keep in touch.
If you’d like to mentor a college student, studentmentor.org is an excellent resource that will tell you how to go about the process. If you’d like to mentor a younger student, Big Brothers Big Sisters or the Boys and Girls Clubs of America are excellent places to start.
Studies have shown that people who volunteer are happier and more well adjusted; give it a try — I know you’ll be glad you did.