Denise Blake is the Atlanta executive director of WINGS for kids, an afterschool program focused on social and emotional learning. A key component of the program is using college-aged mentors, called WINGS Leaders, to lead the day-to-day activities of the program and serve as mentors to the students. WINGS for kids works with Atlanta Public Schools and Fulton County schools.
By Denise Blake
Working at an afterschool program in Atlanta, I’ve seen firsthand the transformative power of mentoring and the incredible impact that these relationships have not only on kids, but also on the adults who work with them. As January is National Mentoring Month, our entire community has the opportunity to celebrate the importance of mentors in the lives of our most vulnerable young people and find ways that they, too, can make a difference.
This month also serves as a reminder that nine million kids across the country—including thousands here in Atlanta—grow up without a trusted adult to help guide them through their most formative years of social and emotional development and empower them to make good life decisions.
Mentors come in all shapes and sizes throughout the continuum of our lives, but they’re most critical and impactful in the lives of young people, and their influence goes beyond the afterschool activities we traditionally associate with mentoring.
That’s because mentoring is more than just a word—it changes lives.
In addition to being 52 percent less likely than their peers to skip school, young people with mentors are 55 percent more likely to enroll in college and 46 percent less likely to start using drugs. And these youth are more likely to pay it forward: 90 percent express interest in becoming mentors for kids just like them. But the impact of mentoring on kids can be found in the small, everyday moments as well: telling their mentor that they missed them over the weekend, excitedly sharing the “A” they received on their math test, or looking forward to simply spending time together after school.
What’s more is that it’s not just kids who benefit from these relationships: The act of mentoring also has a profound impact on those who take young people under their wing. Mentors of all ages find their relationships with kids inspiring and meaningful. Many adults desire to serve kids who share the same backgrounds and experiences, and who come from similar communities, so they can see individuals just like them go on to do great things with their lives. Others continue mentoring because they bond with the kids they work with, learning more about themselves and diverse communities in the process.
Mentoring can happen in many different ways, and there is a plethora of opportunities for adults to use their interests, skills, and strengths to benefit younger citizens in their community. Inquire at your local elementary school about volunteering and tutoring opportunities, or become a troop leader for a youth-serving organization. Contact a local college or university to engage with college students with majors in your current field. Tap into youth activities at your place of worship, or check with your local community center about coaching youth sports teams. No opportunity is too small for you to make a difference.
Atlanta has a long, proud legacy of leading social movements in our country. We are the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We have stood at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement and continue to lead in social justice efforts. But we also have at-risk youth who need our support to stay on a path toward a successful future, and we cannot lose sight of the kids in our community who can benefit from the guidance of a caring adult.
As we remember Dr. King this month, let us continue working toward his vision of a “beloved community” and make every day a day of service to our most vulnerable young people through the power of mentorship in Atlanta and across the nation.