While I can provide a series of anecdotes on the impact of mentoring, the research speaks for itself. According to Big Brothers Big Sisters, a mentored child is 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 52 percent less likely to skip school and five times more likely to graduate high school.
At Lakeshore Middle School, mentors like Suzy arrive with a beaming smile, and it spreads a positive vibe throughout the entire school. The mentor’s excitement is matched by the enthusiasm from the students they serve. The hour per week the mentor and student spend together often becomes the highlight of their week.
The Tri-Cities area is known for its philanthropy and service to the community. The commitment to mentoring is no exception. Kids Hope USA has a mentoring presence in every elementary school in Ottawa County, Big Brothers Big Sisters has been an established name in mentoring for many years, and Barnabas Ministries serves at-risk youth throughout the county.
In addition, there are countless other programs like church youth groups, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, sports teams, and the YMCA Youth Activity Center. We are fortunate to live in a community that supports these organizations to build a brighter future.
The challenge of mentoring has been to initiate a program for teens that can be sustained. There is a gap in available mentors for students in grades 7-9. The amount of change that occurs socially, emotionally and physically at this age is tumultuous.
A mentor can be another resource for young people as they navigate these changes and try to find their place in the world. This person does not replace parents, but rather provides another trusted adult as a family resource.
Currently, nearly 40 percent of Lakeshore Middle School families qualify for free or reduced breakfast and lunch. A recent review of students with at-risk academic grades revealed that more than 70 percent have an absentee parent in their life.
Without question, the need for additional adult mentors exists.
What does it take to be a mentor? According to David Staal, president of Kids Hope USA, it is not that complicated of a formula. One must be able to care, be present, understand and keep commitments.
Not only do our mentors give to their students, but they also experience the satisfaction of helping another. Further, the impact these mentors have on students inspires others to respond likewise.
Perhaps Gandhi said it best: “Man becomes great exactly in the degree in which he works for the welfare of his fellow men.” This quote embodies the spirit of the mentor who can change the world. This change happens one person at a time, and it is forever.
— Kevin Polston is principal of Lakeshore Middle School in Grand Haven.