It’s been said that we’re all the sum of our experiences. From that perspective, it’s easy to see how important it is to surround ourselves with caring, positive adults while we’re growing up.
My family moved multiple times during my childhood, and the transition to a new home, neighborhood, and school was never easy. The move during my teen years from California to Oregon was particularly tough. High school can be challenging enough without having to be the new kid, navigating a whole new set of peer groups to find where you fit in. My parents encouraged me to join a sports team as a way to meet friends and ease some of the angst I felt. And that’s how I met Joella, a volleyball coach who not only made me feel welcome in a strange town, but who also helped me build my self-confidence and form a new circle of friends. Joella was (and still is) physically strong, self-confident, and intelligent. I recognized and admired those qualities in her even then, and spending time with her helped me adopt a more positive outlook on my own life. Even now, when I think of Joella I silently thank her for unofficially mentoring me.
My experience is one that science actually affirms. Studies show that young people who have a mentor are more likely to attend school and become more engaged learners, and are more likely to finish high school and go on to college. They’re also more likely to develop positive social attitudes and relationships, which can be a key factor in determining overall health.
Adolescent and teenage years are a particularly important time to have a mentor. In fact, teens who spend time with a caring adult are much less likely to begin using drugs and alcohol. Having a person to confide in and look up to positively impacts those who might otherwise turn to destructive behaviors. Spending time with a mentor can even improve a young person’s relationships with his or her own family.
What’s really great is that mentorship is a two-way street, since mentors themselves benefit from these relationships, too. Adults who volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters, a national organization dedicated to matching young people with caring mentors, frequently find that being a mentor positively impacts their own sense of well-being, according to the organization.
Big Brothers Big Sisters makes it easy to get involved. They carefully and thoughtfully match adult volunteers with youth enrolled in their program based on personal interests to ensure the relationship is rewarding and mutually beneficial. The requirement to become a “Big?” Commit to spending 8-12 hours a month with your “Little.” The matches that researchers have observed shared everyday activities: eating out, playing sports or attending sporting events, going to movies, sightseeing, and just hanging out together. What mattered most to the children were not the activities, but the fact that they had a caring adult in their lives.
BBBS is one of the organizations Nordic Naturals supports as a corporate sponsor, and it’s through this relationship that I first learned about BBBS and the work they do. What is particularly exciting for me is how BBBS has been able to quantify the difference mentors actually make in children’s lives:
90% agreed their “Big” made them feel better about themselves.
86% said their relationship with their “Big” has helped them make better choices throughout their lives.
65% agreed their “Big” helped them reach a higher level of education than they thought possible.
If you’re looking for a new way to add meaning to your own life in 2018, consider becoming a mentor. A small investment of time can lead to big change for the youth of our communities. Need a little inspiration? Check out this story about the “Match of the Year” from the local BBBS chapter near me in Santa Cruz County. Then go out and be the difference in someone else’s life.
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