What does mentorship looks like? It doesn’t fit into one stereotypical box. Let’s look at the success and impact mentorship has on all of us.
When my father was just fifteen, he emigrated to the United States from Cuba. He lived in an orphanage in Madrid, Spain, for about a year before arriving in the United States completely alone. Eventually, he connected with family in Florida, and moved in with them. Over the years, he built his life here, raising my siblings and me to be first-generation college graduates.
My father’s life, the bold choices he made, and his ability to overcome incredible obstacles, have always been an inspiration to me. He’s the definition of a person who leads by example. Both he and my mother were some of the first—and most impactful—mentors in my life.
Today, I’m honored to serve as a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, where I’ve volunteered for several years and now serve as Chief Marketing Officer.
At Big Brothers Big Sisters, we call our mentees “Littles” and our mentors “Bigs.” One-to-one mentoring relationships have the ability to change a life. All it takes is one person who cares. Just like my dad inspired me from a young age, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America focuses on empowering young people to realize their full potential.
There isn’t one type of Big-Little relationship, though. Let’s dig into what mentorship really looks like in practice, and how both individuals face challenges and celebrate successes, all while growing together.
Every person can be mentored. We can all serve as mentors, too. Images via Shutterstock’s Showing Mentorship Collection.
There Isn’t One Type of Mentor
My dad. My soccer coach. My musical theater teacher. Throughout both my childhood and adult life, all sorts of people have mentored me.
As I’ve grown in my career, I’ve always been on the lookout for mentorship from professional leaders, as well. This reminds us that we all need the positive influence of mentors throughout our lifetimes, and not just during our youth.
We can always learn from a mentor, no matter our age. Images via Shutterstock’s Showing Mentorship Collection.
Every child deserves access to a caring adult mentor, and someone whose impact can last a lifetime. Across America, there are thousands of kids waiting to be matched with a Big through Big Brothers Big Sisters.
These young people are located all over the country and we have to meet them where they are. This is why folks of diverse backgrounds, experiences, and locations are needed to volunteer. Having shared experiences helps to foster relationship growth between youth and adults.
Both girls and boys have an equal need for mentorship, however, research shows that there are large gender gaps in volunteers for mentoring programs. Women are more likely to volunteer for social services like Big Brothers Big Sisters.
One way to encourage more men to get involved is by showing equitable representation to destigmatize male mentorship. Through literally depicting that men can uplift youth, too, we show that people from all walks of life can be present for a young person.
There’s a big demand for male mentors, but volunteers from all walks of life can—and should—influence the lives of young people in their communities. Images via Shutterstock’s Showing Mentorship Collection.
It’s critical to show mentoring in safe environments. For example, when choosing imagery to showcase a mentor and mentee relationship during COVID-19, Big Brothers Big Sisters chooses imagery of Bigs and Littles masking indoors, maintaining a social distance, enjoying the outdoors, or connecting virtually using technology, while still having fun and making a meaningful connection.
It’s critical to show that Bigs are trustworthy and safe for Littles.Images via Shutterstock’s Showing Mentorship Collection.
Mentoring Is a Relationship
Mentorship is like many friendships—it comes with highs and lows. There are high points—celebrating a birthday or graduation—but it also has moments where both the mentor and mentee benefit from having each other in their respective corners.
For much of my adult life, I’ve had the honor of being matched with two incredible Little Brothers—Adrian and Giovanni. Adrian and I were matched when he was in the seventh grade. We remained matched in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program until he graduated high school and moved away for college, where he earned a scholarship to play football.
Our friendship, however, has lasted until this day and will continue for the rest of our lives. Starting in middle school and high school to college, young adulthood and beyond, every young person encounters ups and downs. Some are at school, at home, or in their community.
As Adrian’s Big Brother, my goal was to always make sure that he knew he had someone who would listen when he needed an ear. I shared my perspective when he needed advice and celebrated success during the countless times we achieved our goals together.
Broaching difficult subjects is challenging for mentors, but this is absolutely necessary. At Big Brothers Big Sisters, dedicated professionals—called match support specialists—equip volunteer Bigs to support, empower, and create safe spaces for their Littles.
It’s so inherently important that mentors show youth that they have a trustworthy and reliable resource. Often, this looks like a mentor discussing their mentee’s experiences and concerns. It can look like an adult simply listening to a child.
Mentors and mentees grow together regardless of any obstacle they may face. Images via Shutterstock’s Showing Mentorship Collection.
Three years ago, I met my current Little Brother Giovanni, who has faced the challenges of transitioning from elementary school to middle school during a global pandemic.
Even though we had to maintain social distancing, we still kept in touch. We’ve shared and discussed our experiences during these tumultuous times through phone calls. And, earlier this month, we were able to start meeting again in person.
Maintaining human connection is at the core of mentoring, and it can still be done, no matter the challenges we face. By using imagery and videos that show kids and adults communicating through technology, Big Brothers Big Sisters can relay that staying in touch during the pandemic is entirely possible . . . and even fun.
No matter the obstacles, you can always be present in someone’s life. Images via Shutterstock’s Showing Mentorship Collection.
Celebrate Your Successes Together
There’s nothing better than seeing someone you care about succeed. Both mentors and mentees can share their successes and help one another thrive. Of course, success can look like a high school graduation or winning an award, but it can also take different forms.
Success is a two-way street. Mentors thrive from volunteering too, and often admit that they get just as much out of their mentoring experience as does their mentee. Bigs and Littles inspire each other to be better citizens and the best versions of themselves.
For example, my Little Brother Adrian helped me grow when I was already well into adulthood. When I first volunteered for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay, I was a recent graduate with an MBA. I was working in a corporate office, day in and day out, when we first met.
He was a middle schooler who was figuring out the world. I remember being so inspired by his confidence. Getting to know Adrian, seeing him amongst his peers, celebrating his classroom success, watching him play football, getting to know his family, and being influenced by him along the way helped me grow my confidence, as well.
Big or small, relationships are full of successes for mentors and mentees.Images via Shutterstock’s Showing Mentorship Collection.
Your Impact Lasts a Lifetime
I think that, considering the pandemic and the state of the world, a lot of people are asking, “What can I do? How can I help someone else?” The best place to get started is right in your own community.
Being present for just one other person can make a huge difference. Through the power of mentoring, you can show another person that they’re never alone. In fact, after eighteen months in a Big Brothers Big Sisters program, youth report that they are more likely to avoid risky behaviors, improve their grades, and feel a stronger sense of belonging in their communities.
All kids will find a mentor. It’s critical that we show up as positive ones.Images via Shutterstock’s Showing Mentorship Collection.
Speaking as someone who has benefitted from incredible mentors my entire life, this rings true. My father was fearless. My music teacher was inspiring. My soccer coach taught me that it’s ok to make mistakes. All these mentors empowered me, and their influence was critical to help me become the person I am today.
Are you interested in empowering a young person in your community through mentorship? You can learn more about volunteering here. You can also invest in a child’s future by donating to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
Cover image via Shutterstock’s Showing Mentorship Collection.
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