The Importance Of Mentors
January is National Mentoring Month. Mentors can make a positive difference in a young person’s life as they offer advice, share their life experiences, and help a young person navigate life’s countless challenges. Mentoring, at its core, shows young people that someone cares and makes them feel like they matter.
There are numerous mentoring programs in the city, one of which is Youth Empowerment Project’s YEP Mentors. The program connects youth, ages 8-21, with Youth Advocates who come from communities very similar to the communities where many of its young people live. Each year the program serves around 175 young people.
“Our Youth Advocates are full-time employees, who work with young people to set individualized goals, assist with basic needs, and connect youth with other community resources they might need,” says Darren McCall, director of YEP Programs. “For various reasons, there are barriers that might prevent a young person from having the support they need. YEP is here as a safe place to land for those who might be lacking some of the connections to the resources needed to thrive.”
McCall comes from a family of educators, counselors and social workers. After trying a few different things when he was in college, he began working at a summer camp.
“It really gave me a crash course in working with youth,” he says. “From there, I did some work with some residential care facilities with youth involved in the foster care system, and that really opened my eyes to the many individual and institutional challenges that young people face, as well as how, with a lot of support and positive role models, young people are capable of so much.”
According to a study by Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, students who meet regularly with their mentors are 37% less likely to skip a class, 46 percent less likely to start using illegal drugs, 27 percent less likely to start drinking and 81 percent more likely to participate regularly in sports or extracurricular activities.
McCall has been at YEP for 11 years and loves what he does. He started as a social work intern, then served as a Youth Advocate in the organization’s High School Equivalency programming, and is now director of programming.
“I have been fortunate to have many mentoring experiences throughout my life,” he says. “But I think the passion that I have for helping support youth definitely comes from a wanting to pass along some of the love and support that I got from all of the mentors in my life.”
Throughout the month, people are encouraged to share their experiences with mentoring. If you have something to add to the discussion, please share.