Progress Not Perfection: A Pathway to HOPE

By Jamal Stroud, M.A. (Camp HOPE America, Mentor and Outreach Manager), National Mentoring Resource Center

During National Mentoring Month, we honored mentors, teachers, coaches, family members, community leaders, and countless other individuals who have unselfishly given their time, love, and hope in the name of helping young people reach their full potential. We all benefit from the vision, insight, encouragement, and hope of mentors who have navigated the path before us. The path which we call life. Hopeful mentors can form hopeful mentees, and together (through the mentoring process) can contribute to the facilitation and creation of a culture of hope in the criminal justice system, school settings, their Camp HOPE America community, and throughout the other relationships in their lives. Camp HOPE America programs across the nation continue to find pathways to reach families with both in-person and virtual services and care that have become integral for children’s mental health and well-being with high Adverse Childhood Experience Scores (ACEs).

As 2022 begins, the need for mentors is in high demand. One in three young people will grow up without a mentor. When it comes to building a mentor relationship, some indeterminate and uncertain thoughts can make or break the relationship. Camp HOPE America is the first nationwide camping and mentoring initiative in the United States to focus on children exposed to domestic violence and child abuse. The need for adaptation is vital, as violence and abuse rates in communities across the nation are increasing. As many as 10 million children and adolescents in the United States bear witness to domestic violence each year (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2019). Children from 75% of families with domestic violence in their homes grow up to face life as victims or perpetrators of domestic violence (Sam Houston University, 2013).

When a child is in a current state of crisis, they may have temper tantrums and problems with school. A child going through a current crisis may behave as though they are much younger than they are. They may become aggressive or internalize their distress and withdraw from other people. They may have a lowered sense of self-worth. Exposure to violence causes chronic stress, fear, and anxiety, which are toxic to the brain and impair brain development at any age. Subsequently, early exposure to domestic violence can lead to behavioral issues, learning disabilities, and physical and mental health problems.

Adolescents with high levels of trauma are nine times more likely to enter the juvenile justice system, and many adults incarcerated in the United States for all crimes have families of origin impacted by domestic violence, child abuse, and drug and alcohol abuse (Harlow, 1999). The power of a healthy mentoring relationship can help slow down and eventually stop the pipeline to youth incarceration. A mentor can reduce delinquent behaviors, aggression, and stress levels while increasing hope.

When it comes to mentoring, sometimes we may overcomplicate the task. We must get back to the basics. Here are four strategies to strengthen and improve your mentoring ability:

  • Being a good example
  • Offering problem-solving skills
  • Being a cheerleader while listening
  • Offering support

One of the best traits of a mentor is having the ability to lead by example. Leading by example is a leadership style wherein the mentor models the behavior they would want to see in their mentee. When you lead by example, you don’t just push your mentee towards perfection—rather, you actively demonstrate progress.

Problems can come in many shapes and sizes. Whether your mentee can’t find their phone charger or has forgotten to complete their science homework, good problem-solving skills are the key to helping them manage their lives. When guiding your mentee through their problems, try to walk beside them instead of leading them. Going through a particular situation could make anyone lose hope. With a decrease in hope, your mentee begins to lose the ability to believe in themselves, the inability to believe in others, and even decreases their belief in their own dreams. It is an added value to have a mentor with a high degree of hope. The mentor must have an authentic mindset to believe that their future will be brighter than their past. Achieving an authentic mindset is viewed as the highest level of self-awareness and expression of a growth mindset.

Being a cheerleader is another effective way to connect with your mentee. When your mentee receives praise or is cheered on, it activates the reward circuit in the mentee’s brain—the positive act of cheering heightens the mentee’s focus and motivation. When the mentor praises their mentee, the mentee will experience positive feelings in the resultant surge of Dopamine.

There are no shortcuts to active listening. Mentors need to have a remarkable ability to listen while focusing on feelings. It is also essential to have the capability to read between the lines to see if there is any underlying stress, anxiety, or concerns your mentee may be currently experiencing.

Each pathway to hope can look different while inspiring change within the mentor and mentee’s relationship. Relationship building is equivalent to nurturing a flower; it needs rich soil and daily watering for a flower to grow healthy. The mentee needs hope, support, empowerment, and trust in mentoring. These are fundamental for a healthy mentoring relationship. Trauma in children witnessing domestic violence is measurable and has powerful negative, lifelong consequences without mitigating interventions (www.acestudy.org; Felitti, 2008; Gwinn, 2015; Gwinn, Hellman, 2018). The power of mentoring relationships could help the child form hopeful relationships with others and enhance social skills while developing positive behaviors and aspirations. Always remember when mentoring, the goal is progress, not perfection.

The key to healing young lives after trauma lies with programs that utilize trauma-informed care through supportive relationships to instill resiliency and hope to act as a stabilizer to trauma. Camp HOPE America was the first program in the nation to pioneer this model and remains at the forefront of research-oriented and evidence-based programming, which has helped break cycles of violence in thousands of families across the nation. For more information about Camp HOPE America, please visit us at www.camphopeamerica.org and follow us on all social media at Camp HOPE America.

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