Why I Do This Work

Originally for this blog post, I was going to focus on Child Abuse Prevention Month in April and our upcoming series of webinars addressing how effective screening and monitoring within a youth mentoring or youth-serving program is child abuse prevention, but then I noticed the new Friendship story on our home page. This short diversion of reading about Katie and Elizabether turned into re-reading all of the Friendship stories we have online and thinking about the mentors and mentees I've had contact with over the past almost 10 years. (Turned out to be a not-so-short diversion away from writing this, but I am glad I went with it.)

I've heard a few colleagues who work in similar kinds of programs recently express a sense of low morale and lack of enthusiasm in continuing to do this work. Maybe it's from the ongoing tough economic situation many of us are in, maybe it's a natural phase because we've been working in the same positions or within the same organizations for a significant amount of time, or maybe it's because it's been raining for what seems like months out here! Reading again about how our program has really changed lives reminded me about why I do this work - volunteer mentors may not understand their significance when they start a relationship with their mentees, but we see positive changes when the Friendship is consistent, strengths-based, and focused on fun. We see young people who start to think twice before they make a bad decision or who can begin to envision a future for themselves that may be different from everyone else they know. We also see adult mentors who learn to let go, be more patient, and remember what it's like to do something just to have fun.

Yesterday, I attended a Career Fair at Cisco for high school students from two different districts in our area. I am mentoring one student from this program, as well as helping teachers implement sound mentoring components (including training the other mentors), and they asked me to represent Friends for Youth in a Career Booth. Most of the students who approached me to talk about my career were truly interested in some kind of helping work and a few were just being polite or working with their friends. Clearly, I didn't have the same crowd appeal as the technology or financial companies, but I had more inquiries than in previous years and I got to see one of our mentees who was matched about 3 years ago, who is still in touch with his mentor! By the end of answering the same questions over three hours, I felt even more strongly about why I love doing this work: we help improve people's lives by supporting them as they establish and continue a mentoring relationship. We bring about positive change through relationships, not through a product or curriculum or course - it's all about something we do naturally as human beings and it can have longer lasting impacts than other interventions.

Clearly, it's not just any mentoring program or with just any youth and adult participants that can have these effects - and I am a huge proponent of solid infrastructures and research into why specific components work - but it reminded me that what we are working for is a simple thing: the impact of having an unrelated and unpaid adult every week ask a young person, "How was your day?" cannot be underestimated.

I hope you'll take a quick read through all of our Friendship stories to remind yourself why you're doing this work or why it's important to have positive relationships between adults and youth. Oh, and be sure to check out our upcoming webinars for Child Abuse Prevention Month!


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