January is National Mentoring Month. It is held every year to acknowledge the volunteers who support youth development, recognize the importance of mentoring, and bring mentoring relationships to youth across the country.
Mentoring uses the power of relationships to promote individual growth on a personal, social, educational and/or professional level. The good news is that two-thirds of youth in the U.S. feel like they have a mentor outside their family. The bad news and the flip side is that one-third of youth do not have a mentoring relationship.
This mentoring month we want to thank all those in our community who care about and serve our youth. More than half of those who say they mentor youth devote this extra time while also being employed full-time. That means having a busy schedule doesn’t have to prevent you from mentoring. Just as this is true for adults, it is also true for youth mentors.
In 2019, five youth mentors from Tooele High School volunteered to be peer-to-peer mentors as part of a national health campaign called HealthRocks! Raegan Walker, Ashlee Walker, Allison Miles, Todd Frogue and Fernando Vazquez are all high school seniors with hearts as big as their resumes. These students fill their schedules with sports, clubs, academics, and social activities — but they still weren’t too busy to add mentoring into the mix.
Health Rocks! is a mentorship-based healthy living program aimed at sixth-eighth graders with a focus on supporting healthy living choices. With high-school age peer-to-peer mentors, there is a 3-4 year age gap that allows these mentors to be friends as well as role models. These five Tooele High School mentors volunteer their time to the after-school club, teach healthy living lessons, help with homework, and offer general support for anything that comes up in life.
Vazquez says that one of his favorite things about mentoring is how much he learns from the youth he mentors.
“My mentees have different personalities but meet right in the middle when we work on group projects,” Vazquez said. “They buckle down and put their heads together in a way that amazes me. I feel like they are teaching me.”
Frogue agrees that mentoring is a win-win, and finds that being a good mentor is about getting along with the mentees, laughing, and having a good time together. Like the other mentors, Miles is a super-busy high school senior, but she always makes times for her mentees. “I’ve loved getting to know all the kids and am so excited for all our fun plans for the rest of the year!” she said.
Ashlee and Raegan Walker have used texts or social media to catch up with their mentees when they have traveled abroad, staying close even when far away.
“I love being a mentor for these amazing kids!” Ashlee Walker said. “I could have never imagined the influence I could have had on some of the youth in the community, let alone the influence they’ve had on me!”
When the mentor relationship is based on caring, the connection stays strong even when people are busy.
4H is a national Extension youth program with a long history of supporting mentoring. The goals of 4H mentoring are three-fold: building youth social competency, improving family relationships, and increasing academic success.
But in promoting these goals, the focus has to stay on friendship over outcomes. Mentoring has to have a foundation in caring. The National Mentoring Partnership Study found that when mentoring relationships failed, it was often because the mentor believed they needed to “reform” their mentee and spent at least some of the time pushing the mentee to change. Mentees in successful relationships stayed focused on the relationship and supporting growth. The lessons learned from mentoring indicate that the relationship is at least as critical as the message.
The five highlighted Tooele High School mentors are just one community example of people who invest time in encouraging youth to build healthy lives, develop coping skills, establish fulfilling relationships with peers and adults, and offer assistance managing tough situations in life. Mentoring makes a difference. Contact USU Tooele Extension if you would like to learn more about mentoring opportunities for adults or teens.
Emily Hamilton is a massage therapist and health and wellness enthusiast in Tooele, graduating with a B.S. in Public Health from Utah State University in May 2020. She works as a public health intern at Utah State University Tooele Extension – Tooele County office, which is located inside the Tooele County Health Department Building, 151 N. Main, Tooele. The phone number is 435-277-2400.