January 2011 marks the 10th annual National Mentoring Month, so proclaimed by President Obama just before Christmas last year. Studies* show that both one-on-one and academically-centered mentoring increase college attendance and retention, knowledge of career opportunities, and mentees' self-esteem.
I spoke with Dorothea Parker, the program director for D.C.'s Child Family Life Services (CFLS) Volunteer Mentor Partnership. Mentors are paired with foster youth aged 6-21 years of age, and are committed to a year of service with their mentees. It's an activity-based program, where mentors take their mentees on outings for a total of 4-6 hours a month. Most of the hours are spent exposing the mentees to things that they may be interested in, but have never had the chance to experience. This Christmas, when Dorothea was making rounds to visit various foster families, she delivered gifts to mentees, some of whom told her that it was the first Christmas present they'd ever received. She also told me the story of a young man, age 15, who was ecstatic to bowl for the first time at a group outing for the mentees. By taking mentees to meet professionals in careers in which they've expressed interest, or to auditions for plays, the mentors facilitate personal and professional growth.
In February, Dorothea will enroll at least 25 new kids into the program, all of whom she'd like to match with an appropriate mentor. No matter the race or creed, any one who is willing to make the time commitment is encouraged to contact CFLS. Dorothea noted that gender plays a critical role in matching mentors and students. The issue is not so much safety as it is the ability to relate. For example, some of the young ladies in the program are facing pregnancy, and it's obviously easier for a young woman to talk to a female mentor, because she can more readily relate to, or empathize with, that experience.
January 25 is Thank Your Mentor day. We are encouraged to not only personally thank our mentors, or share a tribute online, but to pass on what we've learned and become a mentor to someone else. So, I implore you, DMV readers, to contact Dorothea Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 202-247-0511. And, readers across the country, you're not exempt- there are plenty of ways to get involved, which you can find here. Remember, in this world it's not just about what you know. So, do your part to guide others toward success. "Help them get there. Be a mentor!"
“Ultimately, happiness rests on how you establish a solid sense of self or being. Happiness does not lie in outward appearances nor in vanity. It is a matter of what you feel inside; it is a deep resonance in your life. To be filled each day with a rewarding sense of exhilaration and purpose, a sense of tasks accomplished and deep fulfillment- people who feel this way are happy. Those who have this sense of satisfaction even if they are extremely busy are much happier than those who have time on their hands but feel empty inside.” – Daisku Ikeda