#GivingTuesday Super Hero #3: Mentor Me North Georgia
Mentor Me North Georgia is an organization that I have personally supported for a number of years so when the organization’s Executive Director, Sylvia Cardona, wrote and asked me if she could nominate the organization, I said “yes, of course. I’d be happy to receive their nomination.” With pleasure, I introduce you to this organization, an organization that is genuinely grass-roots. The organization provides mentoring for children ages 6 to 17.
Mentoring is a great experience for both the mentor and the mentee no matter how old one is. That’s why, whenever you take a new position in a company or enter a new profession, or begin a new business, one of the pieces of advice you’ll hear over and over again is “find a mentor.” After you become established in your field, people will approach you repeatedly and ask you to become a mentor and will share with you that it’s one of the most exciting ways to give back to your field.
Mentor Me North Georgia’s mentors do lots of fun activities with children—frisbee golf, bowling, hiking, canoeing, swimming—whatever the mutual interests of a mentor and mentee enjoy or whatever experiences the mentor would like to introduce the mentee to. Often, this is a matter of exposing the mentee to new experiences that a family’s resources may not allow.
My own father grew up dirt-poor on a farm in rural Missouri. He began taking my two brothers and I to elegant restaurants at an early age—a practice he continued throughout our lives. He shared with us, when we were little, that the first time he had ever been to a very nice restaurant was on a homecoming date while in high school. He described how awkward and uncomfortable he felt because he was in totally unfamiliar territory. He felt greatly disadvantaged in that social setting. The second time he was ever in a fancy restaurant, it was a job interview while he was in college. Again, he felt out of his league. My father would have benefitted from a mentor taking him places his very poor family could not so that when his conversation and social skills were tested, he would have been more likely to succeed.
Mentors not only offer mentees new and different experiences, but they also reinforce positive values. There are some wonderful values and messages in our culture. Today, I read part of the 2014 Millennial Impact Report. One of the researchers’ findings was that 50% of millennials entering the workforce considered a company’s commitment to a cause before interviewing and accepting an offer. I think that’s impressive that they care so much and it’s definitely evidence of positive values in our culture. I don’t know of similar studies of my generation’s values at a similar age (I graduated from both high school and college during the “Greed is Good” Reagan Presidency of the 1980s) and am literally the last of the boomer, born the very last year of the baby boom, but I would wager that there was no similar commitment among my peers to consideration of a company’s commitment at that time among my peers. Even though there are some good values in the culture now, there are also many negative cultural values. Movies and television are full of characters that seem to have no way to express themselves other than through the very most offensive, extensive use of profanity. My husband and I started to watch one movie last night with a cast of A-list actors and actresses. After a half-hour or so of trying to hang with-it, we gave up. Every sentence had at least one use of a four-letter word that began with the letter f. I’m not generally offended by profanity, but when every 3rd or 4th word is profane, the dialogue has crossed a line in my personal opinion (feel free to disagree).
For a child to have a mentor who reinforces the positive—after all, the mentor is volunteering, showing concern for youth and the community, already positive values!—is a great thing. In a world with both strong positive and strong negative messages, kids need help identifying, finding and clinging to the positive.
Finally, mentoring helps set or reinforce expectations for a child. Children tend to live up to or live down to expectations. Even a loving family can have low expectations of a child if the norm in the family in which they live has not lead them to expect more. I know of families that don’t expect their family members to complete high school. Nobody in their family does. In my own family, there was no question we were going to college. The questions that existed were around which college, which major, did we need an advanced degree, would we be eligible for a scholarship. Different expectations. Because my parents assumed I would go to college, I assumed I would also.
How wonderful for a child to have a caring adult become part of his or her life who may have dreams or expectations for him or her that are above and beyond the ones held by his or her family members and family norms. I’m sure some families that mentees come for have high hopes and expectations, but others may not. In those cases, it’s helpful for a child to be paired with a mentor who can help a child set the bar higher.
So far in 2014, Mentor Me North Georgia has worked with 311 children. The elementary school children’s program designed to help children improve their academic skills has helped 100% of them improve their reading skills. At the beginning of the school year, 21% of the children were reading at grade-level. Midway through the year, 59% are reading at grade level. Whether it’s by mentoring children, by helping children improve their academic skills, or by helping high schoolers graduate on time, each year, Mentor Me North Georgia is a Super Hero in the lives of hundreds of North Georgia children and teens.