January marks National Mentoring Month, and it has me reflecting on one of my most important mentors, my rabbi. Truth be told, I never had a deep interest in getting to know my rabbi until he became a teacher of mine. Once he became my teacher, I realized he had so much wisdom beyond Judaism and I knew I wanted to draw from that.
My mentor is my No. 1 fan, which he likes to remind me of often, and always in front of my parents. He inflates my ego, while still challenging me to be something I never thought possible. While he is an unofficial mentor of mine, he has been there for every major decision in my life and helped me along the way. He has seen me tackle my largest feats and seen me off on many new adventures like starting college and studying abroad. As a 21-year-old, I still turn to him for guidance the same way I did as a 12-year-old. That is a relationship I can never give up. I feel lucky to have a mentor, especially when 1 in 3 young people will grow up without a mentor.
Oprah Winfrey described a mentor as “someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” I could not agree more with this statement. A mentor is there to see you for who you are and who you are able to become. They encourage their mentees, while also challenging them. Mentors have the ability to change lives; I know mine changed my life. A mentor’s impact can be everlasting. Whether it is formal or informal mentoring, I believe every child should have a mentor.
Formal mentoring programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters show the importance of these relationships. Big Brothers Big Sisters has shown that “bigs” have a significant impact on the littles’ self-confidence, academic achievement and interest and juvenile justice. Youth matched with a big were 46 percent less likely to start using drugs, almost one-third were less likely to hit someone, skipped fewer classes than did their peers and 90 percent said their big made them feel better about themselves. These are a few select examples of how big of an impact mentoring can make. The benefits of mentorship are never ending and apply to both mentors and mentees.
Even if you missed out on a childhood mentor, it is not too late. I still look for mentors in every aspect of my life today. My first real mentor remains my best, but he taught me the qualities I look for in other mentors. Recognize what you need in a mentor, and go find one. Or better yet, look for opportunities to become a mentor to someone, whether informally, through your interactions with youth in your church, your neighborhood, or in your extended family or through a structured program like Big Brothers Big Sisters. Either way, you have the capacity to positively impact someone else’s life.
Alexa Maltby is a senior human development and family studies major at Penn State. She is currently interning at the Youth Service Bureau.