Few volunteer activities provide as many positive payoffs than adults mentoring children and youth, a fact borne out by study after study. But what does it actually look like in real-life terms to have the attention and participation of an adult mentor?
Midlands Business Journal interviewed two former mentees to discover firsthand how their relationship with an adult mentor helped set their feet on a path for success in life.
Ladazja Ivory, 25
It takes a special kind of person to face a room full of 9th- and 10th-graders on a daily basis, talking about academic success and life skills. Ladazja Ivory, program coordinator with Partnership 4 Kids, who leads an after-school program at Omaha South High School, is one such person.
One reason she’s so at-home here is she knows what many of these kids are going through and she knows the impact that a positive adult influence can have. In fact, she was at this age when she was paired with her mentor, Teresa Sullivan, also through Partnership 4 Kids, a relationship that’s stayed intact to the present day.
“Teresa is a lovely lady; I still talk to her,” Ivory said. “She’s always been kind of like a mother figure. She’s been awesome.”
Ivory was already a good student and had a loving, supportive family, but Sullivan quickly found a key niche in her life nonetheless.
“I am the oldest of three kids and I didn’t have guidance as far as going to college because I am a first-generation college student,” she said. “Once I got to sophomore year and they were talking about a mentor, I’m like, ‘Okay, it’s an actual adult. They’re going to give me those tools to succeed in the future and give me that extra guidance.’
“[Teresa] helped me a lot on the college side of things because at the time, she had a daughter who was actually starting her journey into college.”
The impact was so profound, it inspired Ivory to return to Partnership 4 Kids as a professional to pass along the same kind of positive influence that was given to her. Many of the kids in her class will seek her out for advice or to talk through something one-on-one and she gets to model the behavior demonstrated by her own mentor.
“I would tell anyone considering mentoring to just think about the possibilities,” she said. “You can honestly be the one person to change someone’s life. There are so many kids out there who don’t have a good support system. So many kids just need that little extra push and one person can honestly do it.”
Jammal Hunter, 18
Three years ago, Jammal Hunter felt the absence of a positive male role model in his life. Connecting with 100 Black Men, he found the one-on-one guidance and support that made all the difference in navigating the pressures and challenges of high school.
“I was, like, 15 or 16 at the time,” he said. “I was not troubled, but didn’t have that father figure I was looking for. My mom found 100 Black Men and she signed me up for it. I got matched with my mentor, Marcus [Bell].”
Hunter said after a breaking-in period, he came to rely on Bell, who’s executive director of the 100 Black Men organization.
“We found out we had a lot in common,” Hunter said. “He graduated from the same school. He was like a father, like a brother, and he taught me what to do, what not to do. We just kind of opened up to each other as time went on.”
Hunter said the two connected through various events the organization held as well as informal conversations many youths take for granted.
“We got to hang out usually once a week,” he said. “He also had my phone number to where we could hang out outside of that. We would go get my hair cut or go to the mall or go to the movies or stuff like that.”
Conversations also ran the gamut, from direct help with homework or sports coaching to general conversations about life and confidence.
“Just talking to me about football or coming to my games or saying, ‘I’m proud of you,’” Hunter said. “It’s a different feeling than hearing it from your mom. It’s just a way different level of communication, you know what I’m saying?”
Hunter urged adults to get involved in mentoring, saying most don’t know the substantial impact they can have just by showing up.
“It’s not what you can bring to the table, it’s going to be your presence,” he said. “Just be yourself. Treat it like you’re making a new friend, but a friend where you’re also trying to be that father figure-type person. Just give it time and get to know each other.”