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Seedling Mentoring, Work of Heart

Being a mentor is not only an investment of time, but also of heart. Seedling understands this and works to support you as your mentoring relationship progresses. Through the process of building a trusted friendship with a young person, mentors will experience proud moments, shared laughs, and major breakthroughs. However, mentoring can also bring instances of frustration, bewilderment or regret.   This is all part of the process of becoming the best mentor you can be. You have someone in your corner to support you. Your Mentor Director’s job is to be a listening ear and sounding board. Every question or concern is important; we are here for you. Below are a few examples of what our mentors check in about.

Building trust takes time and your mentee may have had experiences with adults that left them unsure of who to count on.  Begin with these three essential steps to build trust with your mentee:

Be on time

The lunch hour is always going to be laden with traffic and people in a rush. Your mentee’s school can get pretty busy as well. Plan to arrive before lunch begins. This will ensure you get to spend the optimal amount of time with your mentee.

Have a plan

Have an activity idea at the ready. Even if things change, having a plan demonstrates you were thinking of your mentee and intending to make the most of your mentoring visit. Additionally your mentee may have their own activity ideas. Giving your mentee a voice about how you spend your time together, planning a project, and establishing clear goals says to your mentee, we are equals in this relationship.

Visit consistently

Things come up at work or home that can challenge your commitment . Unless you communicate otherwise, the only thing your mentee knows is that you were not there. If you are unable to keep your commitment, please call the school and ask that a note be sent to your mentee, letting them know you are unable to visit that week. When you return, be sure to acknowledge the missed visit and give your mentee the opportunity to share their feelings about it.

Mentoring is a team sport.  The School Contact and your Mentor Director are ready to help when you encounter a challenge. In this case, begin by alerting the School Contact (SC) or school helper about what has happened.   Ask if she can check in with the student. Occasionally, a mentee has changed their mind and truly isn’t interested in engaging in a mentoring relationship. We want to empower the mentee to find their voice for expressing those feelings.  However, many times there is another reason for the mentee’s absence. Perhaps the mentee was not given the message that you are there, or they had a conflicting commitment for homework help, or had been assigned in-school suspension, or sometimes was not in the classroom when the office called and the message was lost. In any of these scenarios, the School Contact can follow the trail and determine where the breakdown in communication occurred.  Sometimes a mentee might be struggling with how to express to you what their goals are for the relationship, so they practice avoidance while they figure it out. Share your concerns with your Mentor Director, she will problem solve with you and offer suggestions for how you can talk with your mentee in a thoughtful, caring way about your mentoring relationship plan and communication strategies. Often times, when something like this happens, mentors take it personally and assume they are no longer needed.  Most of the time it is simply a misunderstanding of when you are meeting or the mentee doesn’t have the words to ask for something different.

It is important to keep in mind that the beginning of a mentoring relationship can be very intimidating for a child.   Consider your mentee’s perspective….. an adult they don’t know is coming to spend lunch time with them. They must sit and eat in front of someone while being peppered with questions . Their classmates may wonder who you are and ask questions your mentee is unprepared to answer. This can be a lot to process.  Focus on having fun rather than talking. Playing a game or walking together is a nonthreatening way to build trust. Bring a deck of cards with you, ask your Mentor Director about games available to you at the school, and consider Seedling’s activity suggestions.  Once your mentee gets comfortable and is ready to talk, one non-threatening way to get young people talking is to ask what they and their friends like to do together. Express interest in what they are interested in.

As you mentor and form a bond with your mentee, you may get a clearer glimpse of your mentee’s life, challenges, or needs. While your mentee may open up to you about what they did on the weekend, or how things went during school, sometimes you may come across your mentee letting you know that they are experiencing some hardships. Having heard some of the challenges your mentee faces, you may feel obligated to act, but wondering, “How can I?” If your mentee expresses challenges that require resources, remember that your School Contact is the person who is best positioned to provide resources or interventions for the family in a respectful and compassionate manner. Talk to your Mentor Director and share your concerns to process together how to best understand  and respond to your mentee’s needs. Whether it’s financial insecurity, counseling, or academic help, your School Contact has numerous resources to offer your mentee. Your primary job is to be a friend, listen as they share their concerns with you, and help them process any feelings they might have about their situation.

This month’s Mentor Training is all about good closure, whether you are saying so long for the summer or goodbye to your mentee because your relationship has reached its natural ending.  Watch your email for the invitation. Before the end of this semester, please let your Mentor Director know of your plans for mentoring next year.

If you have any other similar questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact your Mentor Director.
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