Youth Mentoring Has Lifelong Benefits -- for the Mentor, Too

"Every day, mentors in communities across our Nation provide crucial support and guidance to young people. Whether a day is spent helping with homework, playing catch, or just listening, these moments can have an enormous, lasting effect on a child's life." - President Barack Obama, Presidential Proclamation, National Mentoring Month.
positive-youth-development_Mentor-poster Shortly after I graduated from high school, I became involved with a local dance group. It was organized to expose girls in low socio-economic environments to dance. To become one of their dance instructors was one of the toughest and best decisions I ever made.
I accepted the role with misgivings. As an avid dancer and lover of music, introducing high school females to the art of dance was the ultimate opportunity, and these ladies were the top performers chosen in yearly tryouts. But some were intimidating because of their history with the group. The young ladies had a bad reputation of individualism. Everyone had to have a solo. Working as a team was not on their agenda.

However, it was on mine. No matter what socio-economic background they came from, their acceptance of one another was important to me. I tried to eliminate any cliques and attitudes preventing a kinship that could I hoped would follow them beyond the class and graduation. For example, when we attended outings to the movies, restaurants, and church, it was their responsibility to make sure everyone would be in attendance. If one needed a ride, it was their responsibility to assist each other.
By the time our spring recital arrived, they were able to perform as a team for the first time. Collectively, the parents and the young ladies presented me with four dozen of red roses. What a surprise and great compliment! That time in my life is engraved in my heart. It continues to inspire within me the zest of giving one’s self to others. 
I felt good being in a position to positively impact the lives of young women just a few years younger than I. What gives me chills when I reflect back to this time was the trust the parents and dance director gave me. For as much as I gave the girls, they gave me at least as much.
Dr. Jean Rhodes captured in her research nearly all the feelings I once felt at various time as a mentor. Rachel G. Baldino, MSW, LCSW summarizes it this way:
“[S]ome of the specific benefits for mentors that researchers have discovered include the following:
1.    An improved sense of health and well-being
2.    An enhanced self-image and sense of self-worth
3.    A sense of feeling valued and appreciated
4.    A sense of feeling competent and accomplished
5.    A sense of spiritual fulfillment
6.    A feeling of having gained deeper insights into one's own childhood experiences
7.    A deeper understanding of and appreciation for one's own children
8.    A sense of satisfaction from "giving back to the community"
9.    A sense of feeling needed
10.  A feeling of being respected by others for contributing to society in a very important way
The research also indicates that adults who mentor youths often learn how to make sense of and come to grips with their own experiences as teenagers. That is, the mentoring relationship helps them to revisit how they felt as teenagers, and how they coped with their own youthful challenges.”
Did it impact me this way? Absolutely. And my experience mentoring those girls continues to affect my life.
A few weeks ago, I was invited to a baby shower. As the guests began to arrive, familiar faces and their names began to crystallize in my mind. These were the faces of past young acquaintances from the dance company I taught.
With the re-introduction of each woman, my heart filled with endearment and pride. Proud to be in their presence and a witness to what they had become. Years had passed since I’d last seen them: they were in middle and high school when I departed from their lives. Now, they are college graduates, wives, and mothers-to-be. Seeing them brought back memories of dance recitals, hours of instruction, celebration, tears, costume design, and music.
I was awestruck by the bonds they continued to nurture as adults, as their sisterhood deepens and they grow older.
Do you have any experiences as a mentor you would like to share? Are you presently thinking of becoming a mentor for an organization? Leave a comment!

Check out this post for links to reports that explore other benefits of positive youth development in the juvenile justice system.

Notes on the image above: Illustration by Tim Rosenberg; poem by Sadric Bonner. To see them at full-size, click on the image; right-click to download to your computer.

Updated: December 06 2010