Youth mentoring programs are structured relationships in which an experienced and knowledgeable adult provides guidance, support, and assistance to a young person. These programs are designed to help young individuals develop specific skills, overcome challenges, make positive life choices, and reach their full potential. Youth mentoring programs can be designed to decrease school dropout rates, improve behavioral outcomes and improve academics, or increase self-sufficiency.
Ample research suggests that youth mentoring programs have a significant positive impact on the lives of young people by providing them with role models, guidance, and opportunities for growth. Effective mentoring can also lead to increased self-confidence, better decision-making skills, and enhanced overall well-being.
At SPARK Mentoring Programs, we believe that the key ingredient to a successful mentoring program is a true connection. Research consistently demonstrates that social connection plays a crucial role in promoting both physical and mental health, enhancing overall well-being, and contributing to a fulfilling and meaningful life.
Why is that? What is the so-called secret sauce in connection? We’d like to suggest that the benefits of mentoring start with the mentor’s personal connection to their own well-being, or as we call it, their SPARK. Once this is established, connection to others is effortless.
Mentor connection to their own well-being
We believe that everyone has innate well-being – or a SPARK inside. It’s our birthright as human beings. We believe that regardless of the circumstances we were born into, trauma we have endured, or poor choices we have made, innate well-being still exists within, and when we are connected to this well-being, it’s like drinking from a firehose of life. We have brilliant ideas, are bursting with energy, and find solutions to our problems. We feel compassion, have clarity, and are drawn to inspired action. We feel stuck less often, and life becomes easier to navigate. This is what it feels like to be connected to our SPARK. We are drawing from our well of being.
Conversely, when we are disconnected from our well-being, life feels really hard. There are only problems, no solutions. We are trapped, spinning around and around in the endless cycle of worried, frustrated thinking. It appears like the world is out to get us and that people are annoying and nefarious. We become so focused on the problems in our minds, that we have no space to see otherwise.
One of my own mentors, Michael Neill, once profoundly said, “You are either in your head, or you are in love.” This is another way of saying we are either disconnected from our well-being or connected to it.
At SPARK we point to this when we are working with youth in our own community. If a mentor comes in and feels stuck with how to reach a mentee, we usually start by asking them to describe the child or the situation and their description will often paint the picture.
Being in your head feels tight, uncomfortable, stressful, and overwhelming. It sounds like this: this kid is really screwed up; I can’t believe I’m wasting my time with this; I have thousands of other things to be doing; this is a hopeless case; I’m not qualified to do this; I’m not even getting paid for this; this cannot end soon enough.
Being in your heart feels peaceful, expansive, easy, and light. It sounds like this: This kid has so much potential –so brilliant and creative, God, I wish they knew that. I’m so lucky to be here with them. To guide them to see what I see. What an honor.
Feel the difference?
As mentors and those designing youth mentoring programs, we have seen time and time again that the most important thing we can do is have the self-awareness required to know which state of mind we are in – connected to the well of being or not. Living in our head or living in love.
Mentoring from a connected state
In our mentor training programs, the next question is usually some variation of – that sounds great, how do I live more of the time in my heart? What can I do to stop living in my head? We point to understanding our true nature and how our mind is creating our experience moment to moment. Some of the most profound insights our mentors have had, that naturally result in ‘dropping into’ a connected state include:
1. You are not your thoughts. You are the being that has the capacity to be aware of them. You are the awareness.
2. You don’t have to believe your thinking and if you don’t believe it, you don’t feel the need to act on it. It’s optional.
3. It’s ok to experience ALL feelings. That’s the human experience.
4. Feelings don’t need to be fixed. They are all fine. There is no such thing as an ‘incorrect feeling.’
5. There is a place inside each and every one of us that is pure love, creativity, and potential. Tapping into that place and sharing from it more of the time is what makes a great mentor and generally well-adjusted human being.
When our mentors are able to point mentees to any of these powerful insights, lives start to change. It may be subtle at first and it may even go unrecognized but be sure that change is happening. In our youth mentoring programs, it is the job of the mentor to point out the subtle changes or ‘connect the dots.’ Through a continued exploration of our well-being and state of mind, more and more insights are gleaned, and life becomes easier to navigate. We spend more time in a connected state – both to ourselves and then as a consequence, those around us.
For anyone looking into starting a youth mentoring program or bringing one to your community, we would suggest that a connection to one’s own well-being is an important consideration for success. From this state of well-being the mentor will naturally connect with the well-being of the mentee and have the perfect advice or guidance for the situation. The mentor will be in a position to provide the greatest gift that can be given: a connection to one’s own true self – the SPARK that exists inside each and every one of us.
When you are connected to the source of infinite potential and creativity, when you are drinking from the fire hose of pure love, connection is effortless. In that state, you are poised to uncover the potential of everyone around you.