If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to have a mentor, or to have been a mentor yourself, then you know firsthand the difference mentoring can make.
Mentoring helps increase support and opportunities for young people, including those with disabilities. Mentors help their mentees develop career and interpersonal skills, build friendships and allies in the community, and become as independent as possible.
Being a mentor provides many benefits, too, from strengthening your own skills and gaining a new perspective to potentially changing someone’s life.
January is National Mentoring Month, and with special dates throughout the month — from the Dr. Martin Luther King Day of Service to Thank Your Mentor Day — there are plenty of opportunities to raise awareness about the power of mentoring and encourage more people to become mentors.
What began two decades ago as the Harvard Mentoring Project has today grown into a nationwide event that is recognized by corporations, schools, and nonprofits.
The Harvard Mentoring Project was established in 1997 by the Harvard School of Public Health in an effort to recruit volunteer mentors for underprivileged youth.
In 2002, the Harvard Mentoring Project — along with MENTOR, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, and other nonprofit groups — launched the first National Mentoring Month campaign. Susan Moses, co-director of the Harvard Mentoring Project said at the campaign’s inauguration:
Each year since 2002, U.S. Presidents and Congress have endorsed the campaign by officially designating January as National Mentoring Month.
Looking for some inspiration on how to recognize National Mentoring Month? Here are seven ideas:
One of the best ways to celebrate National Mentoring Month is to become a mentor yourself through an organization like Big Brothers Big Sisters. This could mean mentoring an individual with disabilities in your community. Or, it could mean mentoring a new employee in your workplace.
Many people have a desire to become a mentor. However, finding mentoring opportunities isn’t always easy. Disability service agencies are well-positioned to connect prospective mentors to mentoring opportunities. For example, many agencies offer mentoring programs that connect high school and college students to same-age peers with disabilities.
A volunteer day is a meaningful way to engage your employees while giving back to the community. Team members, mentors, and their mentees can come together to do a service project in the community like planting flowers, cleaning up a park or beach, or collecting donations for a food pantry. Another option is to give your staff paid time off to volunteer. This allows them to spend time mentoring during the workday without having to give up a day’s wages.
Another great way to celebrate Mentoring Month is to spread the word about the benefits of mentoring. Share your own mentoring story about a teacher, coach, colleague, or family friend who made a positive impact on your life. Or, highlight stories of successful mentorships on your social media channels.
In honor of Thank Your Mentor Day on January 27, why not host an awards ceremony for mentors in your community? Invite mentors and their mentees to dress up, and hand out awards and door prizes. Be sure to tag photos of the event with #ThankYourMentor. This can also be adapted to a virtual event, if needed!
Many disability service agencies, and employment agencies in particular, have partnerships with local businesses. For these businesses, mentoring is a valuable way to shape the future workforce and make a positive contribution to the community.
This month, team up with your corporate partners to host a career exploration day. Match students with disabilities with employee mentors to job shadow for a day. It’s a great opportunity to learn about career opportunities, form relationships, and promote awareness of disability inclusion in the workplace. Other ideas include virtual office tours, mock interviews, and career fairs.
Mentoring can help new DSPs learn the ropes, increase their confidence, and build relationships with their colleagues. Research shows that mentoring programs boost employee retention and increase job satisfaction for both the mentor and mentee. What’s more, many people who have been mentored go on to become mentors themselves, so starting a mentoring program can have a positive ripple effect.
Participating in National Mentoring Month is just one way service providers can raise community support for individuals with disabilities.For more ideas and events, be sure to subscribe to the SETWorks blog.