Friday, September 27, 2013

The gift of presence

As I sat in the back of our neighborhood yogurt shop and listened intently to Dean and James, I realized that one of the greatest gifts that a mentor offers is simply this: presence.

In a society where time is a hot commodity, mentors leverage this asset in a powerful way. As I watched this mentor pair interact, it was evident that Dean has been a consistent presence for his mentee James during his time of transition out of homelessness. James spoke of a time when several days had gone by when he didn’t hear from his Trusted Mentor. James had been struggling personally, and Dean had been consistently messaging him or dropping a quick call. Because James had gotten used to Dean’s consistent support, he felt the void when it was absent. It turns out that Dean had his own personal emergency come up—thankfully, James was able to help him through it. Tables were turned and James was present for his mentor.

I often remind our volunteers that being a mentor is indeed more about “being” present than “doing” xyz for their mentees. A mentor is consistent, supportive, encouraging, uplifting, trusting, hopeful. A mentor is truly many thing--but presence is paramount.

 I recently heard from another woman who just began mentoring a young adult aging out of foster care who turns 22 next month and therefore loses financial subsidy.  I asked a more seasoned Trusted Mentor what his advice to her would be.  Andrew offered several practical ways she could help her mentee around issues such as financial responsibility.  And he ended his advice with these words: “Be there”.

In the book Bowling Alone, Robert D. Putnam shows how we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, etc. Putnam warns that our stock of social capital -- the very fabric of our connections with each other-- has plummeted, impoverishing our lives and communities.

Putnam draws on evidence including nearly 500,000 interviews over the last quarter century to show that we know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often. Putnam shows how changes in work, family structure, age, suburban life, television, computers, and other factors have contributed to this decline. In my work with the homeless and at-risk community, I see the evidence of social isolation—loneliness, depression, hopelessness, despair. We are made for connection and something is lost in our human experience without these significant relationships.

 I frequently refer to Bowling Alone and Putnam’s findings when I share the benefits of the mentoring relationship—both for the mentor and the mentee. Mentoring is a way to reconnect relationally. Mentoring is as easy as giving the gift of your presence to another. Thanks to all of our Trusted Mentors—thanks, Dean, Vanessa and Andrew, for being there.  If you’re interested in connecting as a Trusted Mentor, please checkout our website at or email