YouthSpeak: The Power of Mentorship

By Zule Dixon, FosterClub Youth Ambassador
May 17, 2016

ZuleDixon_300x300I would like to reflect on someone who passed away. She was my friend, and more importantly, served as my mentor. My mentor made herself available to me for car related issues, rides to places or even just someone to talk to when times got rough. I met her at a volunteer clothing giveaway in my city; I would go to there regularly when I was younger to get clothes to wear. I was attracted to her free-spirited personality and felt like she truly understood me during a time in my life when many other adults didn’t. We remained close for 13 years.

I remember once I was stranded at a gas station late at night. I couldn’t think of anyone else to call and she was there for me. I had locked my keys and wallet in my car. When she came, she advised me to get a spare key and asked if it was in my budget to sign up for AAA. I never thought about those things nor was I made aware of the importance of those simple things at the time of obtaining my driver’s license. I did, in fact, sign up for AAA shortly after instead of adding those extra features onto my insurance policy. It has definitely come in handy.

These kinds of moments provided me the opportunity to learn valuable skills and continue to be important aspects that I still consider now. I developed and retained this relationship by keeping contact through telephone or email–always keeping in mind having respect and effective communication. I learned the importance of maintaining contact by experience. Ways to do this are by regular phone calls, following up with things you are actively involved in, invites to simple things such as coffee or lunch.

Sometimes as young people, we expect others to see our problems as big as we see them, but that’s not always fair to the other person. I would encourage fellow young people to seek individuals that genuinely open a door to them. An adult who makes themselves accessible and provides interest in a youth is a person you would like to connect with. I found that these types of adults are usually found in academic settings.

I used to attend a church youth group and that’s where I met other good mentors that I have maintained relationships with for many years. Another opportunity to meet mentors and friends is at your college campus; I like to connect with professionals in the counseling, former foster youth and career center departments.

I’d provide other youth with advice based on what I’ve learned: it’s okay to have multiple mentors, and they don’t even have to know each other. Having more than one mentor is important because different people have different areas of expertise; if it’s not their area, they may be able to connect you to someone else. When you connect with more than one mentor you get the advantage of several points of view, which can be valuable in critical situations. Also, you have a higher probability of someone being available right when you need them. If you find that one person has invested a lot of time and efforts in your well being, send thank you cards and show how much you appreciate their support as a way of continuing the relationship into the future.

For the potential mentor reading this, know that foster youth may not have adult mentors in our lives, or even understand that we need them until we have an emergency. I encourage adult supporters to offer mentorship to foster youth they know. Be open and clear about what type of support is okay to ask for. This can be done by helping young people learn how to maintain the relationship, because we haven’t always had a lot of practice establishing these types of connections. You can show us how to meet other people who could be mentors, so that we build a network of people that can support us in all our endeavors and become men and women of purpose in our communities.