We often hear from kids and alumni about how Boys & Girls Clubs change their lives. But as a youth mentor for more than 21 years, the truth is the Club saved mine.
Early in my career with the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Corridor, my daughter passed away. I desperately needed to find a sense of belonging and purpose again. Little did I know that through mentoring for kids, I would become a second mama to so many remarkable youth.
One of those young people is Jaecis Wright. Ten years ago, she walked into our Club as an extremely quiet and shy little girl. She was never the first to speak up or start conversations. But like so many Club kids who come through our doors feeling timid and unsure of themselves, Jaesis has found her voice and is changing the world.
At age 14, Jaecis recognized that more kids in the community needed help and a safe space to talk about race. She organized a gathering at the park to bring youth together to discuss how they see themselves, how others perceive them and their traits and values. Playing off her first name, she called the program “Jaecism Not Racism.” Jaecism stands for Justice Accepting Equality Color Inspirational Successful Movement. What started off as a small idea has grown into a hugely impactful community movement.
As her Club mentor for a decade, I feel like a proud mama. When it comes to mentoring for kids, my goal is always to make sure every child — no matter who they are, what they’re going through or the color of their skin — feels welcome, important and that they have what it takes to accomplish anything. That approach helps shy, quiet children transform into confident, caring teens ready to lead our communities forward.
How to Be an Effective Mentor to Kids
Anyone can serve as a positive role model and help kids achieve their dreams. Here are five recommendations from my experience working at Boys & Girls Clubs to consider when it comes to mentoring for kids in your life.
Being a good mentor to youth means hearing their ideas — really listening. While it is certainly important to guide them toward the most successful path, it is equally essential to actively listen to what children and teens share with you. Avoid being dismissive, and encourage discussion where they can express their opinions, thoughts and solutions without fear of being judged.
- Lead with Hope & Optimism
Many youth struggle to find a place where they feel comfortable using their voice. Club kids often tell us that adults don’t take their ideas seriously. Helping kids build confidence and pursue creativity starts by respecting their ideas or thoughts and greeting them with optimism. To be an effective mentor, embrace a possibility mindset. That means helping kids find ways to bring their ideas to life, even if they learn there is a better or different way to do it along the way.
- Think “With,” Not “For”
Everything we do at the Club is youth-led. Our role is to mentor, advise and think about how we can help kids become their best selves. But effective mentoring for kids is also about empowering them to solve problems and identify solutions on their own. One way to be a strong mentor is to walk alongside youth to guide them and help them when they fall down rather than walking in front of them to clear the path ahead. Jaecis recently said, “People used to lead me, now I’m the leader.” Our job as mentors is to help kids build the skills and confidence to eventually take the lead.
- Create Safe, Judgement-free Spaces
Encouraging kids to open up, communicate and be who they are requires an environment where they feel safe and like they belong. Many Club kids face challenges and adversity in their lives, so creating a space that is positive and uplifting invites them to see and exceed beyond their current circumstances. Showing kids that they can be their true selves is critical for helping them grow from who they are into who they’re meant to be.
- Be a Student, Too
Kids need mentors, but the truth is, we gain as much from them as they do from us. Our Club kids make me better every single day. It doesn’t matter how old we are, we learn from the kids we support. Being a good mentor means knowing you’re never too old to learn, and you’re never too young to teach.
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