Mentoring: what is it and what are the benefits?

Mentoring relationships are celebrated in January, which is National Mentoring Month. What exactly does mentoring mean? And how is a mentor/mentee relationship beneficial? Mentoring literally means to train and advise. It’s a concept most people are familiar with, but not many realize the potential power of mentoring or being mentored.

“Effective mentoring takes effort, and creating successful mentoring relationships requires specific skills, sensibilities and structure from both the mentor and mentee,” Mary Abbajay said  in a Forbes article, Mentoring Matters: Three Essential Elements of Success. Committing to the relationship and establishing a structure benefits both parties. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), research supports mentor/mentee relationships, showing that mentees excel in personal and professional endeavors when being mentored.

In addition to employment or school, mentoring relationships guide in a variety of skill sets. It’s common in the beginning of the year to make resolutions; for many, this includes learning new skills or knowledge. Finding a mentor to guide you along the way has the potential to provide a teacher, in addition to a support system.

Some goals you might set for 2020:

  • Cook a new cuisine.

  • Take an exercise class.

  • Learn a new computer software.

Searching for a mentor also connects you to people with similar experiences. This can be crucial for disabled people. Finding those who have and do navigate similar circumstances positively impacts your mindset and your ability to take action. Being exposed to other people with visual impairments, especially if they can act as mentors and help you to navigate the world as a person with visual impairments, can have a dramatic impact in your daily life and the goals you set forth.

According to Mentor: The National Mentoring Partnership, people who are exposed to positive role models often excel. Demographics given low expectations see an increase in personal and professional goals once paired with a mentor. Often they are:

  • 55 percent more likely to enroll in college.

  • 78 percent more likely to volunteer regularly.

  • 130 percent more likely to hold leadership positions.

Mentoring happens both formally and informally. You can find a mentor who lives next door or seek mentoring programs. Some potential formal local programs to consider for both mentors and mentees are:

  • TeamMates- A school-based program where matches meet once a week during the academic year, usually playing games, shooting hoops or just talking.

  • Dream- This program college-educated men with at-risk young men. Dream teams work on decision making, goal setting and accountability.

  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands- This project pairs adults with children in mentoring relationships. Mentors and mentees meet individually in addition to participating in group activities.

  • NFB Career Mentoring- The National Federation of the Blind works with state agencies to provide mentoring relationships to blind teens and those in their early 20s. Blind professionals are paired with blind mentees. The focus is on employment but teams engage in a variety of activities, including retreat weekends. Currently, Nebraska, Maryland and Mississippi have active programs.

  • Mentor Nebraska- This program uses a database to connect mentors with various mentoring opportunities.

Find informal mentoring opportunities by joining a local club or group that interests you or signing up for a yoga class or book club. If you are seeking out other people with visual impairments, finding a local chapter or state affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind and American Council of the Blind are great ways to connect. There are online avenues to seeking out mentoring opportunities as well, such as Buy Sell Trade groups on Facebook and Next Door. Wherever and with whomever you find mentoring partnerships, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Discuss the structure of the relationship. Make sure all parties are on the same page.

  • Determine how often you should meet and select a joint location.

  • Design an outline for what is confidential and what is not.

  • Be receptive to feedback and commentary.

Like any relationship, a mentoring partnership takes time to develop. Trust must be built. If you take the time to nourish a mentoring relationship, it will bring exponential benefits. Figure out how mentoring can enhance your life in 2020.

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