The Importance of Youth Mentoring By Lisa Yehle, Co-Founder, 100% Otero

In response to the recent, tragic shooting in Alamogordo, it is tempting to point a finger at someone, some agency, some organization, expecting someone else to fix the problem. 100% Otero, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting children and families, would like to suggest an alternative: become part of the solution.

Growing up, everyone benefits from having an adult who devotes some special attention to them. It could be a parent, a grandparent, an older brother or sister, a neighbor. Unfortunately, in many families there is no one to fill that role. Parents may be absent, overworked, or emotionally overwhelmed. There may be a will, but there is no way to provide that special attention every child deserves. That is where each of us can step up: be a mentor.

Mentoring programs work because they provide encouragement and guidance to each adolescent or child who participates. (www.ku.edu Community Toolbox) Many studies show that supportive, healthy relationships formed between mentors and mentees produce benefits that are both immediate and long term. These benefits apply to mentors as well as mentees. (www.youth.gov)

Benefits for youth are numerous and include increased high school graduation rates, lower high school dropout rates; healthier relationships and lifestyle choices; better attitudes about school; higher college enrollment rates; enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence; improved behavior, both at home and at school; stronger relationships with parents, teachers, and peers; improved interpersonal skills; and decreased likelihood of initiating drug and alcohol use. (MENTOR, 2009)

Mentors see many benefits, too, including increased self-esteem, a sense of accomplishment, creation of networks of volunteers, and insight into childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. (Federal Mentoring Council, 2002)

Employers, who encourage employees to become mentors and provide time or incentives for them to do so, also benefit. It can improve employee engagement and retention, impact recruiting efforts designed to identify compassionate and responsible individuals who can serve as positive role models, and provide the opportunity to help the future workforce grow and develop. This supports the community–and, in turn, clients or customers. (Starfish Initiative)

The community at large also benefits from robust mentoring programs. Young people with mentors are more likely to participate in other volunteer opportunities, such as working at a food bank, or organizing community events. Higher graduation rates mean more employees who are prepared for the workforce.(Starfish Initiatives) Mentors can help youth develop positive relationships with adults, an important skill as youth move toward successful adulthood.

Mentors can be anyone who has a caring nature and a little time to share with a young person. A mentor is a trusted guide. Mentoring has the capacity to transfer knowledge, practical life skills and emotional support. Developing trusting relationships is key. Mentors can share life experiences, including how they have moved past mistakes.

Parents must agree to have their child participate in a mentoring program. They must be comfortable with the idea of their child meeting regularly with another adult. For that reason, and many more, good mentoring programs screen prospective volunteers.

There are many opportunities to volunteer with the youth of Otero County. Background checks are required for most mentor positions.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is committed to empowering all youth to reach their full potential.

The mentor application process includes providing references and conducting a background check. They look for candidates who have a genuine commitment to making a positive impact on the lives of young people. Matching of “Bigs” to “Littles” involves identifying shared interests, values, and life experiences. Contact Site Director Brenda Dorsey, at 575 708-0716 or stop by the office at 1200 Indian Wells.

To volunteer with Alamogordo Public Schools, contact the Human Resources Dept. at 575 812-6057. The district will pay for the cost of background checks.

Scouting, youth groups, religious organizations, and youth sports are also fantastic ways to interact with youth and become a mentor.

A “Big Brother” in Alamogordo shared some insights into his four-year experience as a mentor. His :”Little Brother” is now in high school. When they first met, there was anger, resentment, lack of a trusted confidante, and lack of a positive male role model. Now this student is doing very well academically, holding a part-time job, using his “Big” as a sounding board, and planning to become a “Big Brother” to help a younger student.

The mentor is positive about his experience, he looks forward to the weekly phone calls and the weekend activities, when schedules permit.

We can see the importance that caring adults and young people can make in each other’s lives. What greater impact can you have for an hour or two of your time each week?

We can see the importance that caring adults and young people can make in each other’s lives. Mentoring leads to better communication, more accountability, staying on track at school, and developing positive relationships. What greater impact can you have for an hour or two of your time each week? Become a mentor. Help the young people of Otero County.

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