Some of America’s most instrumental people have been mentored by of our nation’s treasures. Oprah Winfrey was mentored by poet laureate Maya Angelou. Dr. Benjamin Mays, former Morehouse College president mentored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn was mentored by his high school teacher.
For many kids in Charlotte, a mentor could change their life.
Thompson Child & Family Focus has brought a new mentoring program to town. The Friends of the Children program is unique in that it pairs children with a professional mentor for 12 1/2 years–from elementary school through high school.
“It feels great to know that I’m helping someone and elevating the community,” said Erica Reid, program director for The Friends of the Children Charlotte program. “Kids are innocent, fun, loving and honest, and the bonds I build with them are really genuine.”
The mission of the program is to strengthen children, families and communities through healing, teaching, worship and play and to lead children and families into independent and rewarding lives by providing the most vulnerable children a nurturing and sustained relationship with a life navigator--a mentor they refer to as a friend.
Mentors in the program are salaried, professional mentors, for a child’s entire childhood, from kindergarten through graduation -- 12.5 years.
“Everyone can benefit from having a strong person constantly in their corner, lifting them up, breathing life into their dreams,” Reid said. “Mentors can help build a child's confidence and self-esteem.”
In many cases, mentors are a sounding board when a mentee feels no one else is listening and can provide the tools kids need to build resilience and the wherewithal to combat future challenges.
The mentors in the program have seen increased confidence and self-awareness for their mentees, teaching them how to manage emotions and make smart decisions while creating positive relationships.
Through the program, youth have access to additional resources such as mental health services and exposure to supportive adults. Youth have an advocate for their success in school and in life.
At the school, mentors look for extra tutoring services and advocate for them when a teacher or administrator may try to label them negatively. They help bridge the gap between teachers and parents and provide services and resources to families to receive food and clothing.
Youth experience new activities and gain resilience and strategies for self-management.
When a child is connected to a dedicated mentor, studies have indicated their self-esteem and confidence grows, they learn how to set goals for themselves and establish the work ethic to achieve them. Their attitudes improve, behavior is modified and relationships get better. Seeking healthy interactions becomes the new normal.
Research is conclusive that mentoring is beneficial to marginalized teens. A North Carolina State University study shows youth from disadvantaged backgrounds are twice as likely to attend college when they have a mentor.
For Reid, mentoring is important because it develops the future through interactions with kids. As life navigators, mentors have a lot of responsibility, and a large part of that is to teach and influence by example.
“This is life-changing work not only for the children we serve, but for us,” Reid said. “Our youth have so much they teach us and impart into our lives. The human connections we make are invaluable, and if all of us tap into this, we'll discover that we're all better together.”
Mentoring gives youth someone who is going to be there for them and someone they can count on when everything else may be falling apart around them.
A valuable resource in Charlotte for the mentoring community is the Mayor’s Mentoring Alliance. The alliance educates mentoring organizations about best practices and mentoring standards, ignites impactful and enduring mentor-mentee relationships and connects Charlotte’s mentoring community.
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