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Though problems mount, there is an effective way to offer a hand-up to youngsters

Earlier in the year — January is National Mentoring Month and May is Mental Health Month — I began thinking about this subject.

At the behest of my wife in early 1998, we began a journey into mentoring of kids that lasts to this day. The two of us started with two grade-schoolers through an Urban Ventures program.

We soon learned that mentoring is a most effective way to offer a hand-up to youngsters. Each of those fine individuals from north Minneapolis remains our friend — along with their adoptive mother; one has graduated from college, earned a master’s degree and is working in her chosen field.

Face time is important

To be effective, adult mentors must log face time with their kids. For the first several years, we spent five to six hours a week with our new friends, doing things that was both worthwhile and fun. As the years evolved, many more mentees — whether officially or unofficially — became part of our family. To be done right, staying close to a young person through the age of 25 or so can make a huge difference.

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We also decided during this time period to host foreign students in our home through several programs; we keep in contact and have visited many of them in their own countries as they enter adulthood becoming doctors, teachers, business owners and engineers.

Increasing challenges 

The parents of half of our nation’s kids say they’d welcome a non-family adult mentor to help their children succeed, yet only about one in three has such a person available. Sadly, countless other young people are not on a waiting list of any sort and could use a caring adult to be a part of their lives.

Chuck Slocum

Chuck Slocum

Mentoring is a way to support a child in making important decisions by listening, setting a good example and offering support. What an honor it is to have that experience with a child.

Today’s COVID-19 pandemic/police and community unrest times reveal the increasing challenges for youngsters. Here are some facts affecting American kids’ health and safety:

  • Almost 14 million children in the U.S. are obese as judged by body mass index.
  • 11-13 million children live in food-insecure homes.
  • There are 5.5 million reports annually of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect of children.
  • Over 4 million children in the U.S. do not have health insurance or receive adequate healthcare.
  • One in four of U.S. children have parents who work past school hours.
  • Nearly one-in-five of U.S. children live without the basic necessities of safe food, water and shelter.
  • Every day, 21 children are shot; the U.S. averages one school shooting every 77 days.

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Oprah Winfrey, based on her own experiences, said “a mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.”

Indeed, mentoring can be a key ingredient to changing things as an advocate for a child’s future. Active attention to the roles that parents, teachers and local schools play is required. Elected officials, too, who decide government policies at every level, must be informed to be a part of the solution to young people’s challenges.

Chuck Slocum is president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm. He is a former National Mentor of the Year. He can be reached at [email protected]

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