SEABROOK SAYS: Matt Kuiken is not just the lead pastor at First ARP, he has vast experience with mentoring school kids. When you read his remarks ask: “Now that I know, shall I volunteer as a mentor?
For the first five minutes we stared at one another. His name was Michael. He was a seven year-old African-American student from a single parent home, and he had requested a mentor. So here I was. I had no idea what to do or say. Yet I had committed to spend an hour a week with this child. And so it began – my first foray into mentoring. I look back at that time now and am amazed that somehow, during the ensuing weeks and months, I not only developed a special bond with this young man, but my eyes were opened to the power of mentoring.
Paul Stanley and Robert Clinton, authors of the book Connecting: The Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed in Life, define mentoring as, “A relational process… that facilitates development or empowerment within a mentoree.” In other words, mentoring is an intentional life-on-life investment in another person. For the past fifteen years, I have been involved in mentoring students and have become convinced that mentoring relationships are a powerful catalyst for community transformation. The essence of the mentoring relationship is to communicate to another person, “You are worth my time,” and to acknowledge that some of the most important lessons in life are caught rather than taught.
There are roughly 32,000 students in the Gaston County School System from K-12. Every year hundreds of Gaston County Students agree to participate in school-based mentoring with an adult volunteer. Tragically, there are almost always more students to be mentored than adults who will mentor them. This has to change. If we truly desire to impact the overall community health of Gaston County, we must be willing to make a life-on-life investment in these student’s lives.
Fran Ellis, who is the Mentor Coordinator for Robinson Elementary School says this, “As a School Counselor, I am convinced that children who have a Mentor are given a gift! They have one special friend, an adult they can truly count on. Someone who is there to listen and advise them regarding so many important things….Mentors are the saving grace for so many of our students. After developing a real relationship with a student, they teach basics such as making friends, focus in the classroom, using good manners, and keeping your word. This Mentor may be the only adult in their lives who shows them the right path. It is truly a gift which makes all the difference!”
According to recent studies students who meet regularly with a mentor are 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school, and 37% less likely to skip a class. Mentored students also are 46% less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs, and 27% less likely to start drinking. Students in a mentoring relationship experience a reduction in depressive symptoms, and gains in social acceptance, academic attitudes, and grades. The benefits of mentoring for young people can hardly be overstated.
So why don’t we do it? Many of us feel like we don’t have much to offer. Or, we may be insecure about how we would relate to a student from a different race, religion, family background, or socio-economic class. Oftentimes, I simply wonder if I’m too busy to make this commitment. In some regards these are all valid concerns. But then I think of the mentors who took time to invest in me. I think of the conversation I had with one student about his father’s imprisonment. I think of a time with another student where he asked me how to shake hands with an adult. I think of another student who asked me if I thought he had what it takes to be an auto mechanic one day. I have continually been amazed at the impact that can be made by simply showing up.
So would you consider mentoring a student in the Gaston County School System? The commitment involves a simple approval process and one hour a week during the school year. The need is too great and the benefits too significant to ignore this opportunity.
In the coming weeks I will challenge First ARP Church to provide all of the needed mentors for the York Chester Middle School, which sits in our own backyard. My hope is that other churches and individuals will get involved in mentoring as well.
\ If you would like to get involved with mentoring in the Gaston County School System you can contact any school and ask to speak to the Mentor Coordinator. You can also contact Valerie Yatco who is the Director of Business and Community Partnerships for Gaston County Schools (firstname.lastname@example.org). Community transformation happens one life at a time. Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” I am convinced by one of the most productive and meaningful ways to live is to give of ourselves in mentoring relationships.
First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church