SEABROOK SAYS: Matt Kuiken, the lead pastor at First ARP Church, is leading the initiative to recruit adults to mentor our kids. Read on, get inspired, become a mentor, share the benefits! NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?
I was back in my hometown several months ago and I ran into him. John Raudenbush is a guy about fifteen years my senior. He is an easy-going fella, with a sly smile, a sharp wit, and twinkle in his eye. When I was in high school John was one of my mentors. Now I don’t want you to get the wrong idea – John would never call himself that. But John did for me what a mentor always does. He engaged me and gave me attention. He encouraged me in various aspects of my life. He motivated me to pursue God’s call on my life by affirming me. He mentored me. So when I saw John recently, I thanked him. I told him I appreciated the role he had played in my development and that any success I have had is in part due to his influence on me (I don’t hold him responsible for the many failures). I wasn’t prepared for his response. Tears filled his eyes. It was honestly kind of uncomfortable as he told me that he never realized that I looked up to him like that. But I could tell that he felt honored and affirmed to be considered a mentor. In that moment we stood on holy ground.
A mentoring relationship, whether formal or informal, is a sacred space. It is life on life impact. It reminds us that our most formative experiences come not through interactions with programs or abstract principles but with people. Mentoring, at its most basic level, is simply one person intentionally investing in another. I have been blessed to be the recipient of such mentoring relationships. In High School it was John Raudenbush. In college it was quirky Mike McGhee. In Seminary it was the Rev. Ryan Laughlin. Who has it been for you? In his book The Mentor Leader, Tony Dungy writes, “Building a life of significance, and creating a legacy of real value, means being willing to get your hands dirty. It means being willing to step out in your life and onto the platforms of influence you’ve been given and touch the lives of people in need. If you want to make a difference in the lives of the people you lead, you must be willing to walk alongside them, to lift and encourage them, to share moments of understanding with them, and to spend time with them, not just shout down at them from on high. Mentors build mentors. Leaders build leaders. When you look at it closely, its really one and the same thing.” If you have been blessed with a mentor at any point in your life, it is now time for you to pass this gift on. There are a myriad of different ways to do this, but let me give you one opportunity that easy and available to you right now.
Did you know that every year there are students within the Gaston County School System who step forward and request an adult mentor only to be told that there are not enough adults willing to mentor them? Of course I’m sure they don’t actually tell the kids this. But kids are smart; they get the picture. To be without a mentor is to be without a crucial lifeline. We have a tremendous opportunity here as leaders within Gaston County. It is not just to be a mentor our selves, but to encourage others within our sphere of influence to be a mentor as well. And here is the big thing – it doesn’t take any special skills, or abilities, or talents, or a certain personality – to be a mentor. It just takes a willingness to show up, for an hour a week, and to invest your life in someone else’s life. That’s it.
This year there are 238 active adult mentors in the Gaston County School System. My hope is that this number continues to grow. My hope is that Gaston County becomes a model, not just in the state but also in the entire country for student mentoring. How cool would it be if it was the rule, and not the exception, that all community leaders in Gaston County were also mentors? What if mentoring was the culture of our public schools, our private business and organizations, and our entire community? I am convinced that this reality would contribute dramatically to the flourishing of our county on numerous levels.
If you are not yet a mentor in the Gaston County School System, I encourage you to contact Valerie Yatko, Director of Business and Community Partnerships for Gaston County Schools, to let her know you are interested in getting involved. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 704.866.6329. Thanks in advance for your involvement.
Reverend Matt Kuiken
First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church