The Gift of the Mentor
“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder….. he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in” - Rachel Carson
I know from personal experience know how much a mentor can influence and redirect lives.
It is often said that “it takes a village to raise a child.” I would argue that there is an embedded assumption in this proclamation. We assume the “village” is functional and has the best interests of the child in its heart. But what if the village is dysfunctional? What if the villagers do not want to be role models? Who can forget Charles Barclay making just this claim in the 1990s?
As a young child, my family moved frequently. No roots, no extended family to guide my brother and me. One day when I was walking home from school I stopped to admire a beautiful cactus garden. Tending the garden was a very old lady (who actually was probably as old as I am now) named Lola.
Noticing my interest, Lola invited me into her “world.” She said, “Why don’t you pick out one plant each day. I will teach the mysteries and science of each cactus.” I was enchanted. Our friendship grew. One day she presented to me a pin. It was her Brownie pin from when she was a little girl. She talked to me about the Girl Scouts, and said she would be happy to let my mom know about a local troop. Before I knew it, I was Brownie and for the first time I was in a safe village where I could explore and learn.
When I look back on my life, I can see many mentors who have guided and nourished my life. But if it hadn’t been for Lola, I don’t know if my interest in science and nature would have taken root as deeply.
The difference between a child with curiosity and a child lost to drugs, alcohol or gangs can be as simple as meeting a Lola. Whether it is an afterschool program aid, a science teacher, a scoutmaster or troop leader, someone who takes an interest in a child can make the next scientist, teacher or president. If we don’t influence that child, he or she might search out that adult role model in a gang.
This is the true purpose of out of school time. It is more than science fairs and science workshops, more than summer camps and afterschool programs. It is about creating a Village that will mentor its children so that they become citizens of character. And how will we know when we have created that citizen? In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “It is when their most persistent and urgent question is, 'What am I doing for others?'"