The Importance of Mentors

By Jessica Castillo

“Pass on what you have learned.” — Yoda to Luke Skywalker, “Return of the Jedi”

One of the most recognized and quoted mentors in cinema, Star Wars’ Jedi master Yoda is the epitome of wisdom and one of the most evident public examples of what it means to be a mentor.

When looking back on our lives, we often remember the people who inspired the moments that defined our character. We remember the friend who introduced us to our favorite movie, the teacher who made us fall in love with a subject in school and the people who chose to love and encourage us. We remember our Yodas — the ones who weren’t obligated by the title of “family” or “friend,” but who made the decision to care about us, teach us, build us up and love us. With thankful hearts, we remember our mentors.

“It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” — Albus Dumbledore, memorable mentor from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

What Does It Mean to Be A Mentor?

Merriam-Webster defines a mentor as “a trusted counselor or guide.” Right off the bat, individuals such as the previously mentioned teachers or parents come to mind — these general examples come to you in an instant, like second nature. When we dig a little deeper and think on a more personal level, however, we often find ourselves remembering others who held this role in our lives — especially if you’re a child who was in foster care or adopted.

Mentors choose their role — they come into our lives at random and make the conscious decision to stick around and care about us.

This quality in particular is what really distinguishes mentorship as crucial for youth who have been neglected in some way — the people who choose to be in our lives make as big an impact as those who chose to leave them, and become essential in encouraging healing and growth. When a person who has no familial or professional ties to you takes an interest in your well-being, it overrides the feeling of worthlessness that is born from the neglect and heartache you’ve been subjected to by the people you expected to be good to you.

“It is important to draw wisdom from many different places. If you take it from only one place, it becomes rigid and stale.” — Uncle Iroh, memorable mentor from “Avatar: The Last Airbender”

Why Mentors are Essential for Foster/Adoptive Youth

According to notable research done by Dr. David L. Dubois of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Division of Community Health Sciences, children with mentors are less likely to abuse substances and have overall better behavior. Having a mentor also encourages a young individual’s academic abilities, such as how well they absorb and hold onto what they’re being taught in school. Having a mentor has also proved to be a strong tool in developing one’s identity in a healthy and positive manner.

According to the America Society for the Positive Care of Children “of youth who age out of foster care, one-fourth are incarcerated within two years and only half graduate from high school.” In 2018, Nicholas Zill and W. Bradford Wilcox of the Institute for Family Studies reported that children who were adopted were “twice as likely to have had their parents contacted in the last year due to schoolwork problems, three times as likely to have had their parents contacted in the last year due to classroom behavior problems, four times more likely to have repeated a grade, and three times more likely to have been suspended or expelled from school.”

A child who has been caught up in the system, whether it be through being a foster child or being adopted (or both), has been undoubtedly bruised by loss in some way. Be it the loss of a loved one, the loss of their comfort zones or the loss of what they always longed for but never had (security, family, etc.), the common ground is that these young individuals have room for people in their lives who want to love and nurture them. The bruises on these young individuals’ hearts aren’t permanent, but how those bruises came to be can encourage negative habits that may have a longer lifespan. Studies show that mentors have positive effects on their protégée’s lives, from social benefits to academic benefits. By mentoring a foster or adoptive child, the negative statistics surrounding these youth are directly challenged, and future statistics improve. Foster and adoptive children need people who want them to succeed.

“Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Where to Find a Mentor

There are numerous organizations set out specifically to help youth across the country find mentors. Among these are:

  • Mentor (www.mentoring.org) is a program whose aim is “to close the mentoring gap and drive equity through quality mentoring relationships for young people.” Their website offers the opportunity to find mentorship programs in your area by inputting your zip code. Super simple!
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (www.bbbs.org) for more than 100 years has provided children of all ages with mentors, maintaining the mission to “create and support one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth.”
  • Youth Villages’ “LifeSet” (www.youthvillages.org/services/lifeset) is a program that has helped more than 20,000 young individuals in the two decades they’ve been HHH! Their program focuses on foster youth who are 18 and older, helping children who are leaving the system establish security and the ability to thrive, but not alone.

These available programs are undeniably helpful in finding a mentor for a young person who needs one. They aren’t the only options, though! Finding a mentor isn’t always a planned endeavor — oftentimes, we find mentors from our immediate communities, such as church congregations or even school. So when thinking about how to help a foster/adoptive youth find a mentor, be sure to consider the activities that tend to automatically surround them with encouraging adults. Some of these might include:

  • Youth groups
  • Boys and Girls Club of America
  • YMCA Programs
  • Extracurricular activities at school

“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” — Oprah Winfrey

Parents, foster parents, social workers, teachers — all of these people have irreplaceable positions in the life of a child. It’s important to note, however, that it’s never a bad thing to have a lot of people who care about you, and it’s never a bad feeling to think that you have multiple people on your side — this is especially true for those who have been hurt. A mentor is not a replacement for those who are absent, but rather an addition to those who are already there. •

Jessica Castillo is a former foster child with a lifetime of love for writing and speaking for those who — more often than not — go unheard. Through the pieces she puts out into the public she hopes to help those involved in the life of a foster child to better understand them — even if it’s just a little bit — and to encourage foster children to be themselves and to love themselves. She’s going to school in Los Angeles to earn a bachelor’s degree in media arts.

Fostering Families Today magazine is the most comprehensive foster care, adoption and kinship care magazine offering resources, expert opinions, practical advice and information on the latest evidence-based best practices for supporting children and youth who come from traumatic backgrounds. Subscribe to our foster parent magazine today or contact us about agency group rates.

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