The Igbo and Yoruba people of Nigeria told us long ago that it takes a village to raise a child, and today’s urban villages are no different. Children still benefit from an involved community of people in their lives, and proof of that can be found in the many local and national youth mentoring programs across the country.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is an international youth mentoring organization that was established in 1904. Operating in all 50 states and in 12 countries, it has even branched itself off into special mentoring programs, including one for African Americans. Big Brothers Big Sisters of America president & CEO, Karen J. Mathis, took a moment to talk a little bit about mentoring with Black Enterprise.
How do I know whether I’m qualified to mentor someone?
“Mentors do not need any special degrees or job skills; the best volunteers simply want to make a difference in the life of a young person by being a friend,” says Mathis. “The goal of the mentoring relationship is to help children gain self-confidence and see the world through a wider lens to become inspired to expand the possibilities for their future.”
Is being a mentor a big time commitment?
It doesn’t have to be. Give whatever time you can, just be sure you can give it on a regular basis. “BBBS agencies ask community-based mentors (“Bigs”) to give a few hours a couple of times a month,” Mathis explains. “While we ask for a commitment of at least a year, the average length of community-based matches is 21.6 months, with many of our matches continuing until the “Little” graduates high school.”
And mentors can participate in a variety of activities with their mentees, Mathis says. They can take in a movie or a sporting event, take a trip to a library or bookstore, shoot some hoops, play a game, grab a bite to eat, etc. When you meet your mentee, find out what he or she likes to do or introduce them to an interest of yours. The goal is simply to spend quality time together.
How should I go about becoming a mentor?
Simply contact a local mentoring organization (or the local branch of a national or international one) and express your interest in mentoring a young person. “Because African American and Hispanic boys disproportionately represent those children who are waiting to be matched, Big Brothers, particularly those of color, are in high demand,” Mathis explains. “Partnerships with a coalition of African American fraternities and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, as well as urban radio personalities such as Michael Baisden (for his One Million Mentors Campaign and Save Our Kids tour), help us better engage African American communities in mentoring and fundraising.”
How do I know I’m being a good mentor?
Do you and your mentee have fun together? Does the conversation come easy? Are you meeting on time and consistently at the designated time and place? The mentor-mentee relationship is just that—a relationship. And like most relationships, there’s a certain degree of intuition involved. “BBBS is an evidence-based mentoring organization, meaning match support staff look at certain parameters when gauging whether a match is a successful one,” Mathis says. “Successful mentoring matches are those where volunteers are able to keep their commitment to spend time with their mentees and where the parent/family is supportive of the match.”
“We’ve found that after forming a relationship with their Big, the Littles perform better in school, have stronger relationships at home and with peers, and have higher aspirations for their future, ” says Mathis.