Midwest Voices

Glennie E. Burks: Mentors deserve praise and thanks

Harper College and former Palatine High School student Danica Lopez (left) of Palatine, Ill., and her mentor, Carlota Rodelo of Carol Stream, Ill., spoke at Harper College about their experiences during the past year in Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211’s Excel Beyond 211 mentoring program.
Harper College and former Palatine High School student Danica Lopez (left) of Palatine, Ill., and her mentor, Carlota Rodelo of Carol Stream, Ill., spoke at Harper College about their experiences during the past year in Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211’s Excel Beyond 211 mentoring program. The Associated Press

Young adulthood, like adolescent years, is a vulnerable time for many men and women because insecurities come in so many forms.

Before anyone accuses me of believing teenagers and young adults have the same issues, I am not. But the remedies for both are often the same prescription — someone to believe in them.

National Mentoring Month is in January, but this should be a 365-day observance. The month calls for adults to mentor children, especially those who are at risk.

The motto is, “be someone who matters to someone who matters.” Being a mentor transcends age, status or title. Anyone who seeks a mentor will benefit in some capacity. Mentors have the unique ability to recognize their protege’s vulnerabilities and to catch them at their best moments.

Good mentors have an influence that may benefit the person for a lifetime. Young people need a cheerleader, someone who always sees the best in them even when we they’re not at their best. Inherently we are all advantaged when we have an igniter of our undiscovered creativeness.

Also in January is “Thank Your Mentor Day.” Adults are to call, write or visit parents, teachers, neighbors and/or coaches who’ve had a positive effect in shaping them into who they are.

Despite the emphasis behind thanking mentors, many don’t do it. We often wait until it is too late. My grandfather used to say, “Give me the flowers while I am alive,” which means tell me kind things while I can be affected by them, not when I am gone. Contacting a former mentor is as important as being a mentor.

Research shows teenagers are less likely to engage in risky behavior like drug and alcohol abuse when they have a positive mentor. This is true of young adults as well. A 2012 Wall Street Journal article cited many companies and some public operations that have institutionalized mentorship programs.

The concept is in many U.S. school districts. A seasoned veteran helps a new teacher produce good lesson plans, gives sound curriculum guidance and provides advice on classroom management. Mentoring programs are most effective when people believe their mentor cares about their success.

It doesn’t take a company instituting mentoring programs. All it takes is a person who has benefited from having a good mentor to do two things to ensure that a legacy of benefits continues.

This is done by first reaching back to thank a mentor, and then paying it forward by becoming one. These two steps are not optional; they are necessities for the concept to endure.

A special person in my life recently lost two mentors. She lamented the fact that she had neither maintained frequent contact nor directly thanked those who had helped her become the professional she is today.

These were people who shaped her from a recent college graduate to an optimal marketing professional, but they never knew their impact. Now she wonders how they would have felt if she had told them how much they meant to her. Would it have given them the extra push they needed to make it through a rough day?

She will never know because she did not take the time to speak up. She realizes now she has an opportunity to redeem herself. She recently called another friend and mentor to thank her for all the coaching, professional development and encouragement.

She explained that she would not want to miss another opportunity to thank a special person who has influenced her life. In short, acknowledge those who have supported you, and then pay it forward.

Glennie E. Burks is a colonel in the U.S. military and lives in Missouri. Reach him at oped@kcstar.com.

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