The start of a new mentoring relationship is similar to that of a dating relationship; there is a long, anxiety-ridden process of getting to know the other person. The most crucial aspect of a successful mentoring relationship is establishing trust and rapport between the mentor and the youth. I personally learned this in my first experience as a mentor with a 14-year old boy named Morris (real name concealed). When I first met Morris in the neighborhood center where I volunteered, I saw a tall, athletic, shy adolescent who reminded me of myself as a teenager. I wanted to help Morris reach his full potential, to achieve academically, and to mature into a great man.
There were a few strategies I implored to ensure a healthy match between Morris and I. First, I showed up to meet Morris every week for the first 3-months of all scheduled activities. Establishing a consistent presence with Morris allowed me to gain his trust as a positive role model.
Second, I made sure Morris was on my team every time there was a basketball game or other team activity. This helped us to build camaraderie in working together toward a common goal.
Finally, I engaged Morris in one-on-one conversation about his interests (e.g. school, girls, and family) and provided encouraging feedback to all of his ideas. This empowered his thought process and challenged him to think critically.
Morris and I had a two-year relationship in which we were nearly inseparable. Whenever I was at the neighborhood center he was there also. I became a vehement fan and attendee to all of his basketball games and football games. When he started dating he would tell me about the girls he liked, disliked, and the girls who liked him. I also adopted many of his friends as my mentees. We took several group outings to malls and parks together. This point in our relationship was similar to the blissful time in a romantic relationship when both partners gain a deep understanding of the other. It felt like we were brothers, and I was not afraid to say that I loved him like one.
When executed properly, the bonds in youth mentoring relationships can become as strong as those in a family. As in all types, youth mentoring relationships provide the opportunity for personal fulfillment at the highest level. However, also as in all types of relationships, there is a chance for hurt and disappointment especially if there are problems in communication. This possibility for hurt became all too real for me in my experiences with Morris. In my next blog I will describe how poor communication may have permanently damaged this relationship.
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