January is National Mentoring Month. So, this blog is about ... mentoring. If Sarah Palin can make up words, I can make up definitions. My definition of a mentor is a caring adult who helps a young person get a grip on life. Mentors make that happen by being an encourager, a listener, an adviser, a homework helper. The relationship between mentor and mentee (real word), more often than not, develops into a lifelong friendship enriching the lives of both.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas (BBBS) is one of the nonprofit organizations in San Antonio which effectively matches at-risk kids with mentors. Currently, their professional staff manages about 3,000 relationships in school-based and corporate workplace programs or
individual matches. That's a lot of work but well worth the effort. From everything I've read and seen, school-based mentoring consistently makes a huge difference in the lives of at-risk children and teens. (Resource links at bottom of page.)
First, what constitutes an at-risk child?
Truancy, a single-parent home, a single-parent home due to an incarcerated parent (a big percentage), participation in risky behavior like drugs or alcohol, or just feeling like you don't fit in, play a big part. I know, from the age of 12 — until, in my case, much later — the last folks I would listen to were my parents. Volunteer mentors are not family. This is a real plus in dealing with at-risk youth whose family life is often disruptive, unhealthy, or adversarial.
How do you get to be a mentor or mentee?
BBBS and other agencies get most of their referrals for at-risk children and youth from teachers, family members, friends of the families, social workers, and the court system. BBBS has been successful in acquiring volunteers for mentors because they continually innovate and collaborate with individuals, civic organizations, and businesses in an effective manner.
What are some of the outcomes?
A child/youth in a mentoring relationship
Why does it matter?
- Learns to make good choices.
- Avoids juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, and early pregnancy.
- Has improved self-esteem, social skills, and knowledge of career opportunities.
- Builds better relationships with family, peers, and other adults.
- Graduates from high school.
Last summer, Big Brothers Big Sisters announced a partnership with three of San Antonio's African-American fraternities. At the announcement press conference, City Council member Ivy Taylor, said: "Our children are our future and our leaders for tomorrow, and our most precious resource. They must be encouraged to stay in school and become self-sufficient." I think that sums it up real fine. There is also a direct correlation between dropout rates and economic health. And, don't we just want our children to have the best possible opportunities for their own sake?
I don't normally get into the politics of funding. But, with increased needs and competition for donor dollars, and the possibility of funding cuts, there's no denying nonprofits' budgets are taking some hits. Big Brothers Big Sisters President /CEO Denise Barkhurst
told me, “We have three state contracts that are at risk as the legislature ponders cutting prevention and intervention services by nearly 90 percent. The amounts of the contracts together total over $700,000. We have set ambitious goals for 2011 in response to the demands for more mentoring, but any loss of state funding is going to be devastating.” I, for one, hope our political leaders start thinking with their heads and hearts instead of their ... well, you know.
In addition to being a mentor, there are other ways to participate at Big Brothers Big Sisters, such as activities, events, fundraisers, and, of course, donations. Click here
for upcoming activities or call 210.225.6322.
-- 10 Things to do in National Mentoring Month
Academic Achievement through Mentoring
-- Texas Drop Out Rates
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