I never meant to be a mentor. Never really thought about it. My husband and I had a very busy life and we didn’t have kids so we were completely detached from the local youth community. I had a friend who had been a mentor for years and every now and then she would try to encourage me to do it, but I didn’t consider it for long before I rejected the idea. I couldn’t imagine how to fit one more commitment into my schedule and I sure wasn’t going to take something like that on if I wouldn’t be able to hold up my end of the agreement. I totally put it out of my mind.
And then one day I was watching Oprah and the show happened to be on mentoring. I listened to all the feel-good stories of other mentors and thought to myself that maybe some day in the future, I would consider doing it. I don’t know what happened that day, but when I heard Oprah say that her goal on that show was to get one million people to sign up to be mentors, I suddenly said to myself, “I’m going to be one of those million!” The next day I called the YouthZone office in Glenwood Springs and told the woman who answered the phone that I wanted to become a pals mentor. That was five years ago when I was matched with my junior pal on her 8th birthday. She just turned 13.
I can’t tell you that mentoring these past five years has always been easy. The first year was the roughest because we were both trying to find our way with each other. She didn’t know me and I really didn’t know her. We came from very different backgrounds, though the YouthZone staff had done, and does do, a great job of matching like-minded individuals. My junior pal liked to come up to our ranch and pick fresh eggs, see the baby cows, pet the horses, interact with our dogs, but I took my responsibility seriously and sometimes the burden of my commitment to two or three hours once a week weighed on me. And yet, year after year, I renewed my commitment to the program and to my junior pal. We were becoming friends. I liked the things I saw in her development and the way that exposing her to another way of life or to opportunities she might not otherwise have made me feel, and I liked the way I saw it made her feel. We did all kinds of things together. We bowled, baked cookies, did homework together, rode horses, walked the dogs, went shopping, read out loud, played games, went to movies, bought and delivered food to the local food bank, went to the animal shelter to visit and walk dogs, went biking, had picnics, fed cows and sometimes just sort of hung out. I started to miss getting together when my schedule got too crazy and I just couldn’t work out a time to get together. Sometimes it was two weeks before we could plan an activity. As each new year of mentoring came up, I wondered if I could commit to it for one more year. And yet, how could I walk away?
Mentoring is rewarding in a way that’s hard to explain. Of course it’s good for the kids. That’s why organizations like YouthZone have been successful, but it’s easy to dismiss what it does for the mentors themselves. Being involved with my junior pal exposed me to a completely different culture and way of life. It made me much more empathetic to how some of these kids struggle and what kinds of challenges they are facing. How having just one more stable adult in their life can add to their life and school experience. It’s rewarding beyond measure.
It’s a sad fact that there are way more kids waiting to be matched with a mentor than there are mentors to go around. Thanks to organizations like YouthZone that work tirelessly to try to fill those voids. Through these mentorship programs we have kids who are more engaged in their communities, are better students, are less likely to began drinking, experimenting with drugs and skipping school and who are shown opportunities they may never otherwise have dreamed of. Five years later, I can say that mentoring is one of the most important and rewarding things that I have ever done.
Call YouthZone today at (970) 945-9300 to volunteer as a pals mentor, or visit www.youthzone.com .