She saw my potential and did her best to help me find it. She gently corrected mistakes and taught me how to do better. She let me make mistakes and learn consequences when it didn't reflect badly on the organization or the clients. I only spent about two years volunteering, then working for this woman, but that was enough to give me more confidence, more experience and a better resume.
When I moved to Winchester, I was lucky enough to acquire another mentor who was my boss. She nurtured my skills, gave me the opportunity to try new things, used lots of praise when I did the work correctly and let me know when I made mistakes. There was the sense of wanting to do right so the person would be proud of me.
I didn't know until later that these women were mentoring me. I just knew I looked up to them and admired them and they inspired me to want to be like them — hard workers, caring individuals, brimming with integrity and common sense. My mentors helped me find my career path in addition to the feeling of security that comes with knowing someone cared about the choices I made.
Dictionary.com defines a mentor as a wise and trusted counselor or teacher and as an influential senior sponsor or supporter. Somehow, the words do not evoke the feeling that having a mentor provides.
Think about what that feeling of support and caring could mean to a child or teenager who may not have the best circumstances at home — maybe no good role models due to lack of education in the family, or worse. Serving as a good example, providing advice and expertise, and showing that you care is an easy way to have a healthy influence on a young person.
There are many ways to get involved – through churches, schools, organizations like Big Brothers/Big Sisters, or even individually with a young person you know in your neighborhood or a relative.
There is a national organization called MENTOR that was founded by two philanthropists in 1990. They had discovered that many young people felt no one cared about them, and this lack of caring adults in their lives sent them the message that they didn't matter. Plus these young people were cut off from our economic system in that they felt the opportunities many of us take for granted were out of their reach.
These two men felt that a generation at risk is a nation at risk and that a lack of caring adult role models was the heart of the problem.
We can all address this problem by mentoring young people and supporting organizations that provide mentors in our community, such as Partners in Education, CASA and Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
Being a mentor is being a leader. Being a leader is inspiring others and helping to influence our world for the better.
Cora Heffner is a Sun community columnist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.