"Grow your team of mentors and mentees.” – Jason Collins, on how to close the gap between kids who need a consistent, caring adult in their lives and adults who could be those positive role models
In 2014, the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation introduced the theme of Uncommon to describe the type of big league people we’re trying to help kids become. We believe there are four key principles to being Uncommon: aim high, ask why, grow your team, and commit and follow through. So, I was thrilled when, at the opening session of the 2015 National Mentoring Summit, Jason Collins mentioned the importance of growing your team—of looking beyond your usual groups for mentors and for kids who need them.
Last week, Travis shared a great recap of the National Mentoring Summit in his blog post. There were so many great stories and tidbits that I wanted to share a few more with you.
Recruiting, Training, and Engaging Mentors
- Mentoring can also have rewards in the workplace. Many mentors reported that the leadership and teamwork skills developed through mentoring have also helped them professionally.
- Training is great, but population-specific training is better. A study of effective program practices in mentoring, conducted through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's (OJJDP's) Mentoring Best Practices Research initiative, found population-specific training to be an important practice. If your program focuses on a specific population (e.g. youth with special needs), you may already do this, but it’s worth considering even if your group includes kids in a variety of circumstances. Mentors do not need to share the same background as the kids to build a great relationship, but mentors do need to understand and be able to take into consideration youth’s experiences and differing needs. For example, if you have coaches and mentors working with kids who have special needs for the first time, check out our HCHC: Adaptive Sports Edition for guidance!
- Program activities (such as sports) can be a great start, but invite mentors to share and teach other interests as well! You never know what other experience, knowledge, or skills they might have unless you ask. We once had a mentor in Badges for Baseball who brought in his guitar and played music! And we have another mentor who uses rap and poetry to engage kids in his program. The more ways in which mentors and youth can connect with each other, the richer those relationships will be and the more everyone involved will benefit.
Working with Youth
- Remind kids that they can be a leader at any age. Maybe your peer mentoring program works with specific age groups, but it’s never too early for kids to understand that others look up to them and that they can use this influence positively or negatively. Or, that, when they see an unmet need in their community, they don’t need to wait for a grown up to fix it or to be grown up to fix it. At the Summit’s closing lunch, we heard from a panel of amazing young leaders who started organizations and initiatives to solve problems in their communities. The youngest was in 8th grade!
- Help kids truly see themselves. This sentiment came up a couple times. One was literally, in the case of a group who would film kids throughout the program so a.) they could see how they were presenting themselves, and b.) they could see how they’d improved over time. The other was in the sense of helping kids see things in themselves that they might not, such as by having their peers tell them all their positive qualities. Both are good ways to help kids build resilience.
- How does being a “real” man interfere with being a good man? Our friend Joe Ehrmann often talks about masculinity and femininity and how hurtful and limiting societal ideals can be. The panelist who posed this question (which can easily be flipped around if you’re talking to girls) had discussed how he’d gotten very different responses when he had asked boys to define what it meant to be a “real” man and what it meant to be a good man. Help kids think critically about what type of person they wish to be.
- Helping others can be a great way to build confidence. The Mayor of Waterbury, CT, shared a story of bringing together kids from the local PAL program with kids from the local Special Olympics program. The kids from PAL taught the kids from Special Olympics various sports skills, like dribbling a basketball. The Special Olympics athletes were able to learn new skills, and the PAL participants built their confidence and experienced how rewarding it is to be able to teach someone a new skill. This circles back to encouraging kids to be leaders at any age: show them by giving them the opportunity to lead! For ideas, check out “Teaching Leadership through Basketball” or HCHC: Civics & Leadership Edition.
Did any of you attend the National Mentoring Summit? Even if you didn’t, anything advice you’d like to share in the comments below?