Making A Difference: The World of Giving -- National Mentoring Month

January is designated as National Mentoring Month. When I learned of this I began thinking about who the mentors were in my life. In other words, who were the people that made a difference in my life? I came up with three and my guess is if you follow my strategy you, too, will be able to identify those who have made a difference in your life.

Family: When we think of our families we can often focus on the dysfunction or lack we found there. But the reality is that our families or the familial unit is for most of us our first mentors. Think about it. Family members teach you how to walk, talk, eat, behave, act ... and the list goes on and on. They mentor you in the basic skills of life. Think about your family members -- who mentored you in a specific way? In my family, I remember my Aunt Marge. She was my mom's oldest sister and she taught me the importance of family and laughter. She had funny sayings that would make you laugh immediately upon hearing her say them ... quite often laughing until you had tears running down your face. My Aunt Marge passed away 20 years ago but I still remember her daily and the lessons about family she taught me. She mentored me and taught me to laugh.

School: In thinking about my education there are two teachers that stand out as mentors -- Mrs. Nancy Hall and Mr. Stanley Beck. Mrs. Hall, or Nancy as she has said I could call her now, was my second grade teacher. I clearly remember the first day of second grade standing outside her classroom, as I was too scared to go in. You see a neighborhood girl, Jackie, told me that Mrs. Hall was really mean and I believed her. But the information she shared was wrong. Mrs. Hall was the kindest and nicest teacher. How do I know this? It is because I can't sing. Yes, because I can't sing, I know Mrs. Hall is kind and also a mentor. As a teacher, Mrs. Hall loved to bring music into the classroom and I didn't realize when I sang I was always out of tune. She mentored me in a way that was kind. Instead of telling me I couldn't sing or trying to change my vocal renditions of songs, she made me feel special by bringing me to the front of the class for every music lesson. My job was to turn the pages of the music as she played the piano. In the last few years I have reconnected with Nancy and when I asked her if I could sing, she still was kind saying, "I don't remember." I then reminded her that she had me turn the pages of the music at which she promptly replied, "No, then you couldn't sing." She mentored me by showing kindness. Her actions taught me at an early age that even when people can't participate you can find a way for them feel as if they belong and to make a difference!

Mr. Stanley Beck was my high school history teacher. However, he mentored me in way that has nothing to do with history. He taught me to pay attention to current events. An example of this is that one day during my sophomore year of school he walked into the classroom and abandoned his lesson plan. He was very distraught and shared that never since the Korean War had he spent a night so scared. Mr. Beck was speaking of an incident that had unfolded the night before ... the Guyana Tragedy in which Jim Jones and his followers drank poison laced Kool-Aid and committed a mass suicide. Mr. Beck discussed the incident, shared his reaction and encouraged us to pay attention to current events. His actions mentored me to not only love history but to look at what is happening in the world on a daily basis.

Friends: The last group I reference as mentors are my friends. Daily I am impressed by their courage and acts of kindness. They are making a difference and constantly mentoring me by providing ideas which I can emulate. My friend Renee is always giving. If you admire a piece of jewelry she is wearing she will more likely than not promptly take it off and give it to you as a gift. She mentors me about how to have a generous and giving heart. My friend Carolyn always has a sunny and positive disposition. She says daily that you have to expect a miracle. She mentors me to be positive and expect the unexpected! My friend Janet gives generously to her friends. On a trip we took to France she insisted on using her American Express miles, of which she has many, to book and pay for our hotel rooms. She has many, many miles and thought why not use them to not only pay for her hotel room but for mine. She mentored and taught me how to give creatively and generously. I have always and still continue to give miles away for flights but never thought about other opportunities that are available. Because of my friend Janet, I have expanded my way of thinking now.

The above examples are personal and ones you can use to think about how you were mentored by your family, people at your school and your friends. Here are five recommendations and tips on the importance of groups and/or programs that can help you find a mentor or mentor program that will Make A Difference (M.A.D.):

  1. Boys and Girls Clubs have mentoring programs. Check them out. They are making a difference in many communities for children and their families!
  2. The Girl Scouts as well as the Boy Scouts have mentoring programs; investigate to see if you could serve as a mentor or enroll your child in one of their programs.
  3. Hire a coach to focus on your career or life objectives. Sometimes an outsider is just who you need to mentor you. To find one start by doing a simple search on the Internet for those coaches in your geographic area.
  4. Find someone you respect in your community or in the field you are interested in working in and ask if they will mentor you.
  5. Many companies have mentor programs. If you are interested in being mentored or serving as a mentor, contact the human resources office of your company to start the progress.

Bonus Tip: Make a financial contribution to a nonprofit organization focused on mentoring such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, or Big Brothers Big Sisters. By doing this you will be ensuring these programs are around and making a difference!

In these economically challenging times, we often can use a buddy or pal to help us through. This year consider formalizing that work by having or being a mentor. By doing so you will Making A Difference (M.A.D)!