The Seedling Foundation recently completed its first new mentor orientation session of the school year. I was fortunate to share the room not only with a group of future mentors, but also with two great presenters, who started us along the path of mentoring.
Becoming a mentor was compared to taking a journey with a mentee; both of them are embarking on a new and exciting trip! However, it is the mentor’s responsibility, with the help of their Seedling Mentor Director and other resources at their disposal, to ensure that the trip runs smoothly. This requires preparation and forethought, and mentor orientation; the first of many training opportunities available to mentors during their time with the Seedling Foundation, begins the process.
Seedling trainers addressed the role of the mentor in a child’s life in this way, “Mentors are not meant to replace a parent, a caregiver, or a counselor; rather, they are simply reliable friends that mentees can build trust with and depend on.”
The concept of a “looking-glass self” also factors into this relationship.
The way that people believe that others perceive them affects their behavior and, in turn, their own self-perception. Consistent opportunities to see someone who cares about them and shows up reliably in their lives can help children reciprocate and externalize that care and affection to others. Conversely, if mentees feel that they are looked down upon by their mentors, they will have no reason to believe that the relationship is meaningful, and will perceive themselves as “lesser than” their mentors.
Trust can be a tricky subject. The orientation session instructors stressed that trust can be defined as “tested expectations.” This means that the relationship between a mentor and a mentee is based on their experience with each other over time. If a mentor shows up when they say they will, the mentee will anticipate their arrival each week and will look forward to the meeting all week-long. This creates a baseline of expectations.
An important part of creating a sustainable mentor relationship is ensuring that it lasts for as long as the mentee thinks that it will last. For this reason, mentors are asked to mentor until the end of the school year, and provide closure to their mentees, even if they plan to come back for the next school year.
Showing up, however, are only the first part of the process of building trust. When the relationship is tested, (and they nearly always are) but the mentor remains steadfastly dedicated to continuing the journey with their mentee, real trust is established. By proving both to yourself and your mentee that you are willing to stick around during times both difficult and easy, real bonding can begin and the relationship can flourish in earnest.
This kind of trust is key to helping children of incarcerated parents cope with and acknowledge their experiences, as mentors help to break down the conspiracy of silence that can keep people of all ages from addressing the issue of parental imprisonment.
Mentoring is a journey that will inevitably have its bumps and wrong turns, but at times it will be the most fun and fulfilling experience imaginable. In the words of one of our presenters, “Mentors have the capacity to change these kids’ lives for the better.”
That is an incredible gift to give, and we appreciate all of our new mentors who are joining us in this amazing journey!
~Adrian Smith, Seedling Foundation Volunteer Recruitment Coordinator