January is National Mentoring Month, an opportunity to recognize the power of relationships between caring, trusted adults and youth. Mentors promote confidence, enable dreams, and encourage growth. They are an invaluable part of our society and we need to ensure all youth in our community has access to the right support to succeed and navigate obstacles.
The benefits of mentoring are well-documented and can include better grades, improved relationships with family and peers and higher engagement in one’s community. Youth benefit from positive relationships with adults who encourage their potential and open their eyes to new possibilities for their futures.
These experiences are even more critical for children and teens who come from difficult socio-economic backgrounds or face other challenging circumstances.
Young adults who were at risk of falling off track but had a mentor are 55 percent more likely to enroll in college, 78 percent more likely to volunteer regularly, 90 percent more likely to be interested in becoming a mentor and 130 percent more likely to hold leadership positions
Yet one in three young people will grow up without a mentor, missing out on this critical asset.
At Girls Inc. our mentors build lasting, trusting relationships and create safe spaces for girls to take risks and push themselves outside their comfort zone. Its mentors are there to support girls every day and every step of the way, helping to provide them with the skills and knowledge they need to counter stereotypes and obstacles and achieve their goals.
Girls Inc. member Maria of Carpinteria is just one example of a young girl whose life was changed because she had people in her corner that believed in her, listened to her and showed her all she could achieve.
“As the daughter of two Mexican immigrants who never received a high school education, doing homework was hard since both my parents and I didn’t know how to read or spell. College was a foreign concept to me. I never had an academic role model," she said.
Maria joined Girls Inc. of Carpineteria's Eureka! program, a five-year college bound program that breaks gender stereotypes through encouraging girls to confront messages that discourage them from actively participating in STEM and sports.
"When I turned in my application for Girls Inc. of Carpinteria’s Eureka! program, little did I know my whole future was going to change for the better," she said. "Eureka! to me is more than a program, but a family — a place I can call home."
Through the Eureka! program, Maria's outlook towards education and her own future have changed dramatically, partially through the encouragement of leaders at an internship and through the encouragement of mentors within the organization.
"I can remember my first year of Eureka! when one of the instructors told me she wants me to go to graduate school. I heard that inspiration again when I took an internship through Eureka! last summer at Lynda.com," she said. "Over the years, my mentors have helped me explore different career options and college options. I learned what a work setting is like and most importantly, how to use your money.
"Looking back at my life these past few years, I have to contribute all of my success to the Eureka! program and my mentors at Girls Inc. because without it, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I gained knowledge, confidence, friendships and experience, things that are necessary to become a successful person," she said.
Maria is only one young woman whose life was changed thanks to having positive role models who showed her all she was worth. There are so many girls in our community, who, with the right mentor, can grow up strong, smart and bold, too.
We need more caring adults whose presence tells youth that we can achieve no matter the obstacles. It is critical to support the organizations in our community who invest in providing trained mentors to youth that give them the courage and confidence to make positive decisions and thrive.
As we celebrate National Mentoring Month, consider the difference you can make in the life of a young person and how you can get involved in building the power of potential in our youth and community.
Mentoring is an investment in our children’s lives and in our collective future.
— Victoria Juarez is the executive director of Girls Inc. of Carpinteria.