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I have mentored more people than I can count over a lengthy career teaching students, colleagues and young people.  I’ve learned a lot of lessons from being a mentor. I’ve even had one young person I mentored for about 5 years end up mentoring me when I needed to learn a variety of social media and technology skills he knew that I did not.


I think there are three basic circumstances in which people end up mentoring others:


  1. They are asked by someone who needs mentoring. This kind of mentoring relationships might surface in the context of a job, a skill, a life direction, or a life change. The person needing help or guidance asks to be mentored.
  2. They fall into the role of a mentor. Many mentoring relationships are “organic,” or emerge from a developing or existing relationship. Neither mentor nor person being mentored set out to create a mentor-type relationship; it just happens.
  3. They let others know they are willing to serve as a mentor. Many adults with skills and experience to offer let others know that they are available and willing to mentor others.


In my experience it is that last type of mentoring (let others know) that has been the most challenging.  When I’ve tried to do this, I’ve identified a lot of skills and experience I thought I had to offer, then let the appropriate target audience know I was available. Most of the time I got little or no response.


Usually the best mentor-mentored relationships are based on (1) a solid relationship between the two, (2) a specific need on the part of the mentored person, (3) dedicated, set-aside time for the mentoring to occur, and (4) a very good match between what the mentored person needs to learn and what the mentor offers.


If you are just now thinking of becoming a mentor and don’t know where to start, we’ve offered a simple guide for you. There are many ways to be a mentor! Can you find one or more areas below in which you have the time, talent, and skills to help a young person?


Mentoring in Your Home

Provide a warm, inviting home for holidays and special occasions

Offer a place to do laundry, helping the young person when needed

Cook a good meal once a week/month


Mentoring for Jobs/Careers

Do you know a lot of business people in your community? Offer networking advice

Help youth locate companies that are hiring

Offer coaching on career directions

Provide trouble-shooting on resume and cover letter creation and submission

Coach youth on how to perform effective online job searches

Offer mock interviews so youth can get some practice


Mentoring on Housing and Community Resources

If you know a great deal about apartment rentals in your area, offer to teach youth how to successful rent their first apartment

Help a young person settle into a new community if they are new to the area


Mentoring on Sports, Exercise and Recreation

Are you especially talented in a particular sport? Offer to teach others

Share you photography, arts or music skills with youth


Mentoring in Education

Tutor a specific subject such as reading or math

Serve as an educational advocate for a struggling student


Mentoring on Legal Issues

Join the CASA Network (www.casaforchildren.org)

Explore your local Legal Aid Society


Mentoring on Home and Financial Management

Offer cooking lessons

Teach basic home economics

Help a youth review income, bills and financial planning



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Dr. Chris Downs has devoted much of his professional career to improving services and outcomes for older, at-risk youth. Chris is President of The Downs Group LLC, based in Seattle and has the pleasure of working with many talented professionals in child welfare and allied areas including his company Associates.