Benefits of mentoring go both ways

Most people have heard the adage, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Turns out that’s true. Numerous studies have shown that children and teens with positive adult relationships have better outcomes in a host of areas: educationally, emotionally, behaviorally, developmentally.

Mentors are an important part of that adult network, particularly for youth experiencing the child welfare system.

Research shows that:

  • Students who meet regularly with mentors are 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school and 37% less likely to skip a class (Public/Private Ventures Study of Big Brothers Big Sisters).
  • Young adults who face an opportunity gap but have a mentor are 55% more likely to be enrolled in college than those who did not have a mentor (The Mentoring Effect, 2014).
  • Youth with mentors are 46% less likely than their peers to start using drugs and 27% less likely to start drinking (Public/Private Ventures study of Big Brothers Big Sisters).

But the positive effects of mentoring aren’t felt solely by the kids being mentored. Mentors also experience benefits from the relationship.

‘Seeing my younger self’

Gloria Grimsley was 11 years old when she joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters program while living in upstate New York. She saw firsthand the impact a mentor can have on a child’s life, and she wanted to pay that forward

Glorida Grimsley, with current mentee Sora, saw the benefits of mentoring firsthand as a young girl participating in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

“It’s always good to have a positive influence in your life,” she says.

Shortly after moving to Florida in 2020, Grimsley applied to be a mentor at Embrace Families. Her first mentee was 16-year-old Jazz.

“I saw my younger self in her and felt like I could invest my energy to giving her what I wish I would’ve had at her age,” Grimsley said.

What she didn’t know was that Jazz would also be supporting her. During the COVID pandemic, body image issues were on the rise, and Grimsley found herself struggling to be happy with how she looked. It wasn’t until Jazz shared her own image insecurities that the two started having conversations that led to healing for both of them.

“I started planning exercises that focused on her becoming more self-aware of her body and encouraged her to care for it in ways that felt healthy and fulfilling,” Grimsley said.

And by encouraging Jazz to celebrate her natural shape and size, Grimsley began to have a healthy relationship with her body.

“I feel like one of the ‘Aha!’ moments I had as a mentor was helping Jazz overcome her negative body image and the effects it had on her self-esteem,” Grimsley said. “Not only was I happy that Jazz felt comfortable in her own skin, but I saw how much helping her helped me — and that’s what mentoring is all about.”

A matter of trust

Alex Howell says he was “the right person at the right time” for his first mentee, Lucas, who wasn’t convinced he needed one.

When Alex Howell first started mentoring with Embrace Families, things weren’t always easy. His first mentee, Lucas, was resistant to having a mentor. But of all the mentees Howell has had, he says Lucas has had the greatest impact on him.

Although Lucas had been living in a group home, his family was still very involved in his life, so he couldn’t see the point of having a mentor. Howell was still new to mentoring and didn’t want to push Lucas too far.

To get beyond that roadblock, Howell suggested focusing on Lucas’ immediate needs, thinking it wouldn’t hurt to at least have that conversation. Howell soon became an advocate for Lucas and his reunification plan, educating him about his rights and scheduling appointments with his case managers and the caregivers in his group home.

Howell regularly reminded Lucas to keep his number, so Lucas would know he could call him at any time, even well after their mentoring relationship ended. As Lucas’ case progressed, his need for Howell’s help lessened.

“I think I was the right person at the right time,” Howell said. “I feel like the greatest impact I’ve made as a mentor is knowing that if Lucas ever needed something, he would pick up the phone and call me. He trusts me.”

Making the journey to adulthood easier

Mike Hester, with mentees Troy (left) and Cesar, focuses his mentoring on older teens, driven by a passion to support youth who are transitioning out of the child welfare system.

Mentoring is especially needed for older youth. Just ask Mike Hester.

Since becoming a mentor in 2021, he’s seen firsthand the sobering reality that comes with “aging out” of foster care and the hardships young adults face as they struggle to become independent.

“One thing I focus on teaching my mentees are life skills, such as the value of … having personal responsibility,” Hester says. “It makes their transition to navigating adulthood a little easier.”

Hester’s approach to mentoring focuses on his mentees’ individual contexts and needs rather than what is considered “normal” for kids their age. That, Hester says, helps his mentees form a foundation for success that’s based on where they are in life and not where they “should be.”

A way to see the world differently

Bee Khallouq has always had a passion for service, and since moving to Florida from California in 2016,

she has been especially passionate about mentoring LGBTQ+ youth and sibling groups in the foster care system. A background in child psychology and social services has given her particular insight into the unique challenges kids in those demographics face.

Reducing one mentee’s interest in risky behaviors was one such challenge. As a more positive way to feel excitement, Khallouq began taking her mentee to new restaurants, encouraging her to try a variety of foods. On her mentee’s birthday, the pair visited a Japanese restaurant — a big step for her mentee, whom Khallouq described as a “finicky” eater.

“Working with Embrace Families’ mentoring program has really grounded me as an individual and has helped me grow as a person,” Khallouq said. “Oftentimes, we don’t think about how mentors can benefit from their mentees. It empowers you to see the world from a different perspective and reminds you of all the things you take for granted, especially when you grow up in an intact household.”

Most of Khallouq’s mentees have been sibling groups, which she said is important to her, but the mentee who has had the greatest impact on her so far is Margari.

“Despite everything she has gone through, Margari loves so selflessly, and I know that despite deep setbacks the family has had, her mom loved her,” Khallouq said. “The way that child can love so deeply means that she was loved that way, and when she says, ‘I love you, Miss B.,’ so naturally, I know that she is healing and opening up to the idea of being loved by someone the same way her mom loved her some time ago. It’s incredible.”

January is National Mentor Month, celebrating the important role mentors play in giving children and teens the support and care they need to succeed. Embrace Families’ Legacy Mentor Program matches teens and young adults ages 13-23 who are experiencing the child welfare system with positive role models. Adults who are interesting in making a difference in a child’s life through mentoring can learn more at make-a-difference/mentor.