What Role Have Mentors Played in Your Life?

What Role Have Mentors Played in Your Life?

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Have you ever had a mentor — someone in your life who provided guidance, motivation, emotional support and role modeling?

Do you ever wish you had one, especially now during this time of disruption, social isolation and loneliness?

In “‘I Know I’m Not Alone’: The Importance of Mentors Right Now,” Alix Strauss writes:

Last May, a 17-year-old from Queens lost his father, an essential worker, to Covid-19. For six months, the shy and soft-spoken teenager, whose name is Ansh and whose last name is being withheld for privacy, hardly left the one-bedroom apartment he shares with his mother in Astoria.

“I felt so alone,” Ansh said. “I didn’t feel like anyone was there to support me, and I really needed someone who would.”

In September, he found such a person. His mother, concerned about Ansh’s isolation, had reached out to a mentoring organization, Bigs and Littles NYC, which matched him with Jared Stankowski of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “When I found out he lost his father, and how little focus there was on him and his pain, I realized this was a serious case and I could be helpful,” said Mr. Stankowski, 32, an account manager at Glassdoor.com.

“It’s exhilarating to visit places I’ve never been to,” Ansh said. “I don’t like to leave the apartment, but Jared helped me be more comfortable. He supports me and helps me feel better about my situation.”

Mentoring programs have long helped children — often from disadvantaged backgrounds — who need more engaged, supportive adults in their lives. The pandemic has made the demand for them as strong as ever but has also thrown some curveballs at some of the organizations that specialize in them.

Along with the coronavirus pandemic, the events of the past summer and the Black Lives Matter movement have heightened the need for mentors:

When the Black Lives Matter movement intensified last summer, mentoring provided a crucial connection for both children and adult volunteers, Ms. Guevara said. “When 89 percent of our youth are children of color, they needed someone they could safely process that with who understood them,” she said. Volunteerism increased after George Floyd’s killing by the Minneapolis police last May, she said.

Trinity, 17, a high school senior who is passionate about civil rights, lives with her parents and her 2-year-old sister in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. “I’m blessed to have Arlene,” who is her second mentor, Trinity said. “She’s helped me with remote learning, with my college applications and essay, and to make financial decisions.”

As with Ansh, getting a mentor was her parents’ idea. She and Ms. Thompson text daily and FaceTime twice a week.

“She’s my go-to person,” Trinity said of Ms. Thompson, 28. “I know I’m not alone in this. We’re both women of color, but she gave me a different perspective on what’s happening, and that was really important. Her positivity is so important. It’s so easy to fall down the hill because there’s no change coming.”

Ms. Thompson talked similarly about her relationship with Trinity. “She has an excitement about the future that’s contagious,” she said, calling their connection a sisterhood. “We’re going through this world together in a strong, positive way. She has someone to talk with her, not at her, without judgment.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • Have you ever had a mentor — an adviser, tutor, coach or role model — who has played an important role in your life? If so, tell us about your experiences together. What impact did your mentor have on your life? Did that person have any of the qualities of Arlene Thompson or Jared Stankowski, the mentors described in the article?

  • Ms. Strauss says that the pandemic has intensified the need and demand for mentors. Who have you turned to for support and guidance during this difficult period? Do you think you would benefit by having a mentor?

  • The article profiles two teenagers, Trinity and Ansh, both 17. Which aspects of their stories resonated most with you and why? Trinity says of her mentor, Ms. Thompson: “She’s my go-to person. I know I’m not alone in this. We’re both women of color, but she gave me a different perspective on what’s happening.” Why do you think it is important to have someone in your life who makes you feel less alone and to help you process the world around you?

  • What qualities do you think make a good mentor or role model? Ms. Thompson said of her relationship with Trinity, “She has someone to talk with her, not at her, without judgment.” Do you think it is important to have an adult in your life who can talk and listen without judgment?

  • Would you ever consider becoming a mentor? What do you imagine would be the rewards of such a role? What qualities do you possess that would make you a good mentor?

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Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.