I recently stepped down from an active roll as a mentor. For the past 10 years I participated in mentoring programs with high school, elementary school and college boys/men. The interactions had mixed results. Most of my mentoring efforts was "group" mentoring through the local chapter of a national mentoring organization focused on mentoring black boys/teenagers. I served as a mentor (with another partner) to mentor a group of boys in the 5th and 6th grades in the local Indianapolis Public School (IPS) system. We conducted our sessions once a week inside the schools during lunch hours. We typically had 5 to 15 boys in our group.
Dealing with disciplinary and behavior issues of students took up a lot of the 1 hour a week we spent with the boys. I often felt like the distractions of misbehaving kids prevented the program from truly impacting the boys who attended the sessions. But, what kept me going was the desire to "give back" to others. I hoped that maybe through interacting with me, the young boys would see that they can aspire to have a good life.
In the sessions of this past year I tried to share with the 5th grade boys how I grew up in a poor environment. Despite my poor economic surroundings I tried to show them that through education I escaped those conditions of poverty. I shared with them how I am now retired and that my income in retirement from my annuity was higher than the income of most people who are working at a full time job today. With a 40 year difference in our ages, I of course struggled in understanding some of the things the kids were talking about.
This past year my main goal was to work with a new mentor in the program. I had worked behind the scenes the past 3 years to support the program. I performed administrative work that supported the efforts of the actual mentors. But, there were fewer men volunteering to become mentors so I returned to the classroom this year. My mentor partner was a young, black, pediatrician to be. It was obvious from the first session that he possessed the skills to be a good mentor. So, I stepped aside and let him conduct most of the sessions while I took care of organizing the room and taking care of administrative matters.
Over the years, the organization of the mentoring program had some problems. I kept working through the disorganization and lack of clarity in the program as I felt the time spent with the boys was the key. I decided earlier this year that this would be my final year working in the program. The lack of improvement in the program was a continuing frustration. Plus, at age 59 I believe there are younger men who can fill the gap.
I'm hoping the My Brother's Keeper (MBK) program started by President Obama will grow and become a viable force to promote mentoring of our youth. Maybe I will get involved with targeted efforts where sharing my experiences can help some youth. I look back on the past 10 years knowing that I at least tried to offer my skills for the benefit of our youth. All my efforts were not successful, but at least I tried.