Having a Mentor can Help with School, Bullying and Creativity

Q&A with Jill Gurr

Q: Jill you’ve written a wonderful book about mentoring and mentoring groups. What inspired you to write, Mentor Youth Now: A Guidebook for Transforming Young Lives?

A: In 1996, I founded a nonprofit organization called Create Now after I had taught a Screenwriting workshop to a group of incarcerated teenage boys. Not only did many of these kids learn how to read and write through my program, but many wanted to return to school or go to college. One tough gang leader even had tattoos removed. I taught a second workshop and got the same results. I realized that these successes were largely due to the relationships that I had developed with the youth, and their support from a few mentors that I brought in. Over the last 16 years, I’ve personally mentored dozens of the most troubled kids in our community and have trained and matched mentors with hundreds of kids. Some of the results from these mentoring relationships are astounding.

Q: How does mentoring transform someone’s life?

A: I think that kids respond so well to mentors is because they realize that someone who isn’t getting paid and isn’t their parent actually cares enough about them to volunteer their time. With a mentor, youth have a trusted adult who they can turn to without fear of punishment if they want to share secrets or ask certain questions. Mentors expose their menthes to many diverse opportunities and resources that they might not be aware of, and help them to find their goals. Mentors broaden their menthes’ horizons, encourage higher education or potential careers and support these youth in a variety of different ways by giving them encouragement and building self-esteem and confidence.

Children who are bullied could be reluctant to tell their parents because they may feel their child is complaining too much, or being weak. Siblings and friends possibly don’t want to get involved. They could also be so embarrassed about the problem that they hide the abuse.

As mentors, you’re already serving a valuable purpose by being a sounding board for your mentees, so they can vent their feelings to someone who is sympathetic and a good listener. Your compassion and encouragement is priceless, whether your mentee is being bullied, or if he or she is the bully, since bullies have feelings too, including anxiety, fear and guilt.

Q: What makes a good mentor?

A: A good mentor must always be reliable and punctual. These kids will look at you as a role model, so you should not disappoint them because they will look forward to your meeting. Build trust and learn how to LISTEN. It’s very important that you hear what they tell you and let them know that you get it, without passing judgment or forcing your beliefs. Don’t contradict your mentee’s parents or guardian since you can’t overstep your boundaries. Be available when your mentee reaches out to you.

Q: What are the benefits to mentors?

A: Mentors report that they are happier with their careers, fulfilled from volunteering in their community, and they feel better about themselves for having impacted someone’s life. Mentors develop leadership skills, enhanced interpersonal skills and a deeper understanding of youth. They receive admiration from their associates, have an opportunity to meet a challenge and they get along better with their own families.

Q: What are the benefits to mentees?

A: Research shows that 46% of youth who are mentored are less likely to use drugs; 52% are less likely to skip school and one-third are less likely to hit someone. They are more confident of their performance in school and they get along better with their families.

Q: What is the difference between being a mentor or a school counselor?

A: A mentor forms a personal relationship with a student and they become an advocate. They often become extended family members. However, a school counselor must keep a professional distance and not get involved in issues that aren’t directly related to school, unless they suspect there is abuse or neglect, which they must report to authorities. In regards to bullying, a child might be afraid to report this to a school counselor for fear that the information could leak out and have repercussions. Yet they usually trust their mentor enough to open up about sensitive topics and to seek guidance.

Q: How can we teach mentors to be more open- minded?

A: It’s really important to keep an open mind when you’re mentoring, since your mentee(s) might confide things that you are very much against. For instance, what if your mentee confides that he is using illegal drugs, or she tells you that she’s pregnant. You probably have strong opinions about these issues and you want to convince your mentee to follow your guidance. However, if they think that you’re going to just lecture them, or possibly report them to their parents, teacher or another authority, they will close up and not trust you anymore. Try to find a balance and send them to professionals in that field who can support them.

Q: Has your view of mentoring changed overtime?

Yes! When I founded Create Now, I thought it was the arts workshops that drew the kids and got them to change their lives. I discovered that arts mentoring really does make an impact, since kids learn valuable skills, develop goals and build self-esteem when they accomplish things. However, I’ve discovered that while the arts are precious as a motivator and an educational tool, as well as a positive creative outlet, it’s actually the mentoring relationship that affects youth. You could be coaching a sports team, taking kids on a hike in nature or just hanging out and watching TV with your mentees. It’s the fact that an adult cares enough about them that they want to spend time together, and they have someone they can trust to turn to when they need help. That’s powerful stuff!

Jill Gurr founded the Los Angeles based charity Create Now (www.createnow.org) in 1996, which transforms the lives of vulnerable children ages 2-25 through arts mentoring programs. Jill’s new book, “Mentor Youth Now: A Guidebook for Transforming Young Lives” is packed with valuable information and resources so that anyone can learn how to mentor kids and it’s available at: www.mentoryouthnow.com


Feb 27 2012 in Whats New admin Comments Off on Having a Mentor can Help with School, Bullying and Creativity

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