Mentoring highlighted during national festivities

by Larry Alexander

January is National Mentor Month. This year’s theme is “Expand your universe. Mentor a child.” National Mentoring Month is an opportunity to focus national, state and local attention on mentoring and show potential volunteers how to enhance their lives by enhancing the lives of young people.

General Colin L. Powell will headline the eighth annual National Mentoring Month volunteer recruitment drive. The campaign focuses on recruiting community volunteers, and last year local mentoring programs reported 375,000 new contacts as a result.
National Mentoring Month began in 2002 and is spearheaded by the Center for Health Communication of the Harvard School of Public Health, MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership and the Corporation for National and Community Service. Media partners include: CBS, FOX, NBC, MTV, Comcast, Time Warner and the National Association of Broadcasters.
There are many ways to get involved in National Mentoring Month. For example, the 2009 Martin Luther King Day of Service is an opportunity to encourage individuals to “make it a day on…not a day off” by participating in local service groups. To find out more about the “make it a day on” campaign visit www.MLKDay.gov
Ten things you can do in January 2009, from www.nationalmentoringmonth.org
• Become a mentor in your community.
• Learn about mentoring.
• Partner with a mentoring organization.
• Tell five friends about National Mentoring Month.
• Think about the mentors in your life and post a tribute to them online.
• Watch videos of celebrities such as Quincy Jones, Sting, Cal Ripken, Jr., talk about the mentors in their lives.
• Read the latest research and find resources on mentoring.
• Go to YouTube on Thank Your Mentor Day (January 22) and make the National Mentoring Month videos the most popular of the day.
• Serve your community on MLK Day of Service by deciding to become a mentor.
• Make a donation to a mentoring organization in your community.
In Michigan, First Gentleman Dan Mulhem is a leading force behind the initiative and is an advocate for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Michigan Mentoring Month’s goal is to promote community events and generate media attention to help recruit mentors. The 2009 theme is “Pass It On,” a celebration of the everyday people who make a difference in the lives of Michigan’s youth.
According to www.mentormichigan.org, mentors don’t need special skills, they just need to care about kids and be willing to volunteer about one hour a week. The site houses various Mentor Michigan campaign aids, such as the Mentor Michigan Communications Tool Kit, mentor recognition or recruitment event tips, radio and television PSAs, press releases and other resources.
Research indicates mentoring programs help reduce youth drug use and violence while increasing their chances of living healthy and productive lives. Studies also have shown volunteering led to better functioning ability, increased longevity, less risk of heart disease and decreased levels of depression.
Mentor Michigan provides multiple resources about mentoring and how to volunteer. They describe mentoring and mentors as:
What is mentoring? Mentoring is a structured and trusting relationship that brings a young person together with a caring individual who offers guidance, support and encouragement aimed at developing the competence and character of the mentee.
A mentoring relationship is most often one-to-one, but some group mentoring relationships exist which entail one mentor with no more than four mentees. Group mentoring of this nature allows for one-on-one relationships to be developed within a group setting.
What is a mentor? A mentor is a trusted and faithful friend who listens, supports, and guides a young person on a consistent basis over a specified period of time. To children, mentoring means having a trusted friend who cares about them and listens to them; a role model they can look up to; someone who will help them achieve their dreams.
The mentor is the one who initiates the flow of the relationship and invites the mentee to share and explore through open communication. A mentor helps the mentee find out where they want to go and help them find positive and effective ways to get there, while also helping them to grow and develop along the way.
Mentors will be honored throughout the month and January 22 will be Thank Your Mentor Day.
Suggestions for honoring mentors: (From mentormichigan.org)
• Contact Them: Get in touch with your mentors by phone, e-mail, a card or a letter. Let your mentors know the impact they had on your life while letting them know you can change their lives as well
• Pass It On: Honor the person who mentored you by becoming a mentor
• Write a Tribute: Write a tribute to your mentors and send it to the local newspaper, radio station or TV station. You can post it online at www.whomentoredyou.org
Big Brothers Big Sisters will be honoring their mentors in various ways.
“In Sault Ste. Marie, we are planning a Mentor Appreciation Day at the Sault Seal Recreation Area,” said Lynda Garlitz, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Sault Ste. Marie. “We will be tubing down the hill, as well as sharing pizza and hot chocolate. All our adult mentors and their Littles will be invited, as well as our peer mentors and their Littles from Sault high school, middle school and elementary schools.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City was created in 1904 by court clerk Ernest Kent Coulter. Although not united under the title Big Brothers Big Sisters of American until 1977, Big Brothers and Big Sisters have been around with various names since 1904. Today the group claims to be “the oldest, largest and most effective youth mentoring organization in the United States.”
According to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Marquette, when you volunteer your time and energy to help others, you feel good. They cite a University of Michigan study of more than 1,000 people, which indicated individuals who volunteer forty hours a year, less than forty-five minutes per week, live an average of eight years longer than those who didn’t.
Researchers speculate the friendships, new experiences and rush of good feelings associated with volunteering keep you healthy by lowering your blood pressure, heart rate and makes life worth living.
The Sault chapter of BBBS also sponsors a peer mentoring program in which high school juniors and seniors mentor junior high kids.
“Our biggest success this year is our peer mentoring program through the Sault High School,” Garlitz said. “We have over thirty juniors and seniors mentoring students at the middle school.”
BBBS will be expanding the program in January to include mentoring at Sault elementary schools, and it is planning to expand the program into the Rudyard School District sometime in early 2009.
“The entire administration staff at all Sault schools are on board with the benefits of peer mentoring, and we are one of the few high schools in the area that provide such a comprehensive program,” Garlitz said.
BBBS of America and its local chapters are funded by grants and charitable donations. The national organization earned a four-star exceptional rating from Charity Navigator, an independent charity evaluator, for the fifth consecutive year. Charity Navigator rates charities on how effectively they use contributions. The full evaluation is online at www.charitynavigator.org
“I secured a grant from the City of Sault Ste. Marie for in-kind dollars for the recognition event, including use of the recreation area, daily passes for our mentors and mentees to go tubing, open skating passes for Pullar Arena, and for a picnic at Sherman Park Pavilion next summer,” Garlitz said. “The Sault Tribe Big Bear Ice Arena also provided Free Skating passes for our Mentors and Mentees.”
Beyond free skating and a picnic, beyond the feeling of doing something good for others and the health benefits, what’s in it for mentors?
According to the National Cares Mentoring Movement, you can enhance your communications skills, increase your self-awareness, share learning opportunities, establish valuable and meaningful relationships and make a meaningful difference in the life of a child.
You also may get a few chances to ditch your chores and go hang out with someone who is happy to see you. And studies indicate mentees have higher self-esteem.
Mentors make a difference, at least according to the many public figures who have added their voices to www.WhoMentoredYou.org. As a mentor, you might be spending time with the next Colin Powell, Sting or Tom Brokaw.
Don’t forget to honor your mentor on January 22. Call, write, send an e-card from Hallmark (www.hallmark.com) or use cards at Mentor Youth e-cards to say thank you or happy birthday. There also are cards for inviting new volunteers.
“Our biggest challenge currently is to get adults to volunteer and give us a one year commitment,” Garlitz said.
Mentoring Month is meant to help meet that challenge.

— Larry Alexander
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