Mentoring our youth is truly one of the best investments we can make in the future of our communities. Think about that.
It’s like investing in infrastructure designed to support human potential. While you may never fully know how the payoffs will take shape over time, these investments are seldom wasted. Seeds find roots in positive reinforcement.
There are youth all around us who are surviving in a sense, but not thriving like they might. Their trajectories can be easily swayed at this crucial point. The question is which way will it lead them, and how can we positively affect that path before it’s gone aground?
The answer is pretty simple. Give your time and attention to someone on a regular basis who lacks positive role models.
While these kids (or adults) are often flawed themselves for numerous reasons, having that one voice of encouragement can make all the difference. Like parenting, it requires patience and understanding, but also offers endless rewards.
All platitudes aside, I was drawn into mentoring by happenstance really. My youngest daughter took on mentoring as part of her community service credit, and was assigned a young match within her school.
She met with this young girl weekly at school, and was soon accompanying her to other functions and introduced her to our hobby ranch. Our family formed a bond with her that lasted well beyond my daughter leaving for college, and my wife and I became her mentors.
Seeing how it all changed her helped me decide to take on another mentee; a young boy with an interest in hunting and fishing, art, music and team sports. Of course my hand went up, as those are all passions of mine. It has led to a very fulfilling experience for us both, though not without its challenges.
Fishing tops my list of activities, as it has proven to be the most overall enjoyable for boys and girls alike in my experience. It offers exercise, fresh air, swimming, snacks, camaraderie, and let’s not forget - food gathering prowess.
Teaching them how to clean and cook the fish broadens the lessons. I feel it is just as important as teaching them proper conservation and ethical outdoor practices. There’s nothing like the face of a youngster enjoying eating a fish THEY caught and cleaned. If all goes well, they’ll want to replicate it again and again.
The other thing I like about fishing is everyone can take it or leave it. Given that, it's like a low pressure sport like badminton or croquet that is generally accepted in good humor. It seems like ALL kids want to try their hand at fishing at least once.
Even if it doesn’t strike their fancy, the tug of the line is one that excites us all.
I’ve introduced numerous kids to fishing, and each one took to it at their own level of enthusiasm. My three daughters all enjoy fishing more or less passively. They may not seek it out for themselves, but will gladly engage in it, (and may even outfish you;).
I’ve watched young boys revel in an amazing afternoon of panfish from shore, only to caution them not to expect fishing to always be THIS good. Other times I stressed that getting skunked on a tough bite is part of the dance. I know they went forth and still fish regularly to this day.
At the end of the day, everyone seems to enjoy fishing, and harvesting and cleaning a fish is much more relatable to young girls especially. My daughters wouldn’t want to help me skin an animal, but they have no problem cutting up fish. Even as toddlers, they watched with glee, and then made the connection to that food we ate. Teach a kid to fish, and well…
New to fishing? No worries. We’ve got you covered for what equipment you need, and how to clean them, and eventually cook them. At WindRider, we believe in having fun, making memories and enjoying the water, and this blog series is one way to share our passions and offer solid instruction along the way.
Of course, the other activities for mentoring are basically endless. Just examine what you LIKE doing (or did when you were younger), and make the time to do it with someone who helps you see it with new eyes. You may surprise yourself.
This is what I say to empty-nesters like myself, “You know what’s in my car? A tackle box, a basketball, my disc golf bag, swim trunks, a drone, and numerous ticket stubs to movies I would have never seen.”
It’s a weekly time commitment that literally gets me to do more of the things I enjoy, and share them with someone in need.
Read that again. It allows me to parent again, only much more like grandparenting. Spoiling them a little is one of things these kids have generally never enjoyed. It makes them feel special, and that does wonders for self esteem.
I realize that those of you in the throes of raising a family may find it difficult to carve out more time, but remember your own kids can take part in the process. Overall though, I get that you may not have time at this point in your lives.
That is why - EMPTY NESTERS - I’M LOOKING AT YOU.
You have been down a road that enables you to offer more of yourself now. You’re most likely a bit more liquid financially, and a bit more flexible with your time. That is, if you’re not still caught up in the ratrace. (Boy there’s a whole nother blog). This type of giving back is easy to do, but you also need to go in with open eyes.
Just remember the patience piece from parenting. These individuals are often damaged goods, and may suffer from maladies of which you’re unfamiliar. ADHD, autism, family trauma, learning disorders and fetal alcohol syndrome are all ingredients that may have gone into this person. Your task is to help them overcome these boundaries, and set them on a new trajectory not unlike you may have with your own kids.
Other kids are simply in need of a positive role model that is missing in their life. They don't necessarily want special treatment; just the treatment that is afforded most youth in our society. They are raw gems waiting to be discovered.
While their issues may be something you can offer advice on, there will always be challenges you haven’t faced with your own brood. That is when it comes down to brass tacks. You can easily walk away as it is not technically your responsibility. What will you do?
Believe me, I have been very frustrated by my match’s behavior and wanted to hang it up for a while. But by the next week, I’m already figuring out what we might do, and where it fits into my schedule. I know what it means to him when I have to cancel, and how he hounds his grandma about when I will see him again. Who can walk away from that?
Sometimes I just bring him back to my place and we hang. Start up the fire pit, do some art, visit the goats or play with the dogs. He even taught me how to use my older fruit and berries to make smoothies. It doesn’t always have to be a structured activity.
So go seek out the mentoring resources in your area, (and don’t tell me they are none). If you are truly remote, or see a need for it, maybe start your own mentoring program. I promise you there are organizations out there who need your help as mentors, or can help you establish your own program.
Big Brothers Big Sisters is one of the oldest and most established mentoring groups. I remember their TV commercials as a kid. I wasn’t sure what a big brother or sister was outside of the nuclear family, but I remember the message of hope it offered.
Mentor is an organization dedicated to fostering youth mentoring and advocacy of issues relating to youth.
Friends for Youth is well established, and features a Mentoring Institute that offers training and resources to mentors.
Kinship is the organization in my area, and it has branches nationwide. They offer an easy screening process and will work to find a match that is a good fit for you. Here in Polk County, Wisconsin, there are sponsored events throughout the year for baseball games, snowtubing, theater, swimming, and even cooking classes. Not to mention resources on dealing with issues as a mentor.
They have been a breeze to work with for me especially, as they offer fishing events during the summer and winter, which I use for episodes of our series Why We Fish.
I’ve been lucky enough to film the following fishing events to date:
In all these cases, you’ll find kids getting hooked on fishing, (sorry for that, but it fits). It has been my great pleasure to not only serve as a mentor, but to be able to integrate it into my work as an outdoor producer (and blogger) has made it even more rewarding.
I also produced a piece for their annual fundraising event during COVID, which included this Kinship Mentoring Story of Kelly and Mia. You may want to grab a tissue for this one.
In the end, it is my hope that I’ve helped move the needle ever so much for the cause of mentoring our youth, and spread the word that it offers rewards for both mentors and mentees alike.
So get out there and give of yourself. Someone out there just might need you. Not to mention your community;)
Phred Nelson, WindRider Int’l