If I had been asked to mentor six months ago, I would have definitely been interested but probably would have declined, thinking it wouldn’t realistically fit into my busy schedule. Between work and school I feel I barely have time for my important “me” time. However, I know that when I find something I truly want to do, I manage to find the time. Yes, I want to help others and make this world a better place. But building a relationship is not a task to draw a line through once accomplished. I hadn’t anticipated how much mentoring would impact me.
In January, I started a one semester internship at Trusted Mentors as part of earning my masters in social work. After a couple months connecting mentors and mentees, I knew I wanted to become involved more than professionally. About a month ago I expressed my interest in becoming a volunteer mentor. I had a general understanding of what that involved. As Trusted Mentors works with individuals who are at risk of homelessness, I imagined applying mentoring in this context.
I admit, the idea of mentoring made me assess my knowledge of homelessness, and frankly, I found myself feeling a little insecure. Though I feel stable and accomplished and therefore able to be a role model--what did I know about overcoming homelessness or poverty? It is one thing to experience the stress of possible poverty, but quite another to actually experience it. Before my anxiety increased too much, I was quickly calmed by the Trusted Mentors staff who reassured me that the most important part of mentoring is building a healthy relationship.
What does a healthy relationship look like-- stable, trusting, accepting, supportive. My mentee described a mentor as “someone I can be open and honest with, without any judgment.” And I could help her reach her goals through “support… and be[ing] nice.” I love my mentee’s answers and they gave me confidence that I can provide the support she needs.
Having experienced prejudice and discrimination myself, I can relate to not wanting to be judged. Mentoring started me thinking about what we each need, and supportive, positive relationships are a need I think we often don’t think about. How often do we ask ourselves, “What healthy relationships do I have in my life?” My appreciation for healthy relationships has greatly increased as I interact with individuals who have little or no support.
As an intern, I am genuinely giddy to hear mentees benefiting from the mentoring process. I have not been matched very long, but I have thoroughly enjoyed learning more about my mentee. I see strengths and beautiful qualities in my mentee, which she doesn’t yet realize. I am witnessing how a healthy relationship can help her view herself and her future more positively. I feel myself learning and growing in bounds as my perspective broadens. I am deeply touched by her trust and vulnerability when she confides in me. I look forward to our friendship growing over the following year and longer.
If you enjoy volunteering, I highly recommend giving mentoring a chance!
Marea Kinney is a Graduate Student Intern with Trusted Mentors through the IUPUI School of Social Work.