Kristen Smith and Margot LesterTo close out National Mentoring Month, here's a post from my friend, colleague and protégée Kristen Smith (that's us at a Carolina football game). She's a mentor in a local program for school kids. I asked her to share why she mentors in hopes it will inspire you to get involved in mentoring someone or remind you why you already do!

Deep and wide

“Deep and Wide” is a song sung at Vacation Bible Schools and fellowship halls everywhere.  The song has some pretty great hand motions that go along with it and the phrase is used to describe the enormity of God’s grace.  But the phrase for me also describes a challenge that was issued to me and several other adult volunteers at a training for Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate (BRMA).

During the training, the director of the program said it was our job to expose our mentee to a BREADTH of experiences.  Then when we helped our mentee find something that excited them, help him or her explore the DEPTH of that activity or passion.  Almost four years into our relationship, my mentee and I have had quite a breadth of experiences!

We’re still looking for that pursuit about which she’s passionate, but as we keep searching, there are three reasons I continue to mentor:

1. I believe in the impact of one person on another person's life.

People have long debated on what helps a child be resilient – how some children grow up to be caring and competent adults, in spite of incredible odds.  A famous longitudinal study found resilient children “had the opportunity to establish, early on, a close bond with at least one competent, emotionally stable person who was sensitive to their needs.”  But most of us didn’t need to read an academic journal to know that.  We can recount a teacher, a parent’s friend, pastor, or neighbor who went above and beyond to be a caring presence in our life.  Even though many of these relationships are usually created informally, I believe that BRMA is ensuring that students of color have that caring adult in their life.

2. Sometimes we have to step in and be an advocate.

The title of the program is intentional: we aren’t just mentors, we are mentor-ADVOCATES.  We are trained to ensure that our mentees are getting what they need at school and step in when they don’t have a voice or aren’t being heard.  This was tested for me this year.  But I’m glad I approached the administration and I have a better relationship now with the school counselor.  We can – and should – step in and be an advocate for our mentee, and that might be the best way to teach them how to be an advocate for themselves.

3. All students have a right to good schools.

As a student, student teacher, and adult mentor, the minority achievement gap has been a challenge for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.  Different indicators have shown that even in one of the best school systems in the state, African-American and other racial minority students are lagging behind their white counterparts.  I grew up in this school system and I’m concerned that my mentee’s experience is different than what my experience was as a white student.  BRMA has had proven success in helping narrow the achievement gap.  Being a mentor is my witness to say that all students deserve a quality education.

  • Do you think one person can make a difference?
  • Do you think it’s important to be an advocate for someone?
  • Do you think all students deserve good schools or good something else?

Whether or not you’re an “official” mentor, think about how you can help expose someone to a breadth of experiences, or help that individual explore the depth of a pursuit or passion.  Because “There's a fountain flowing deep and wide…” And you might be the one person to help your mentee tap it.

Kristen Smith is a Chapel Hill native; serves as vice president of advocacy and engagement at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce; and volunteers as a mentor to an eighth grader at Phillips Middle School.  In honor of National Mentoring Month, Kristen would like to thank her personal mentors, Graig Meyer and Margot Lester.  

Related Content:
3 tips for working with a mentor
More tips for mentors and protégées.