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By Renée Spencer, Ed.D., LICSW

We often talk about what mentoring offers to young people today – how it can promote their development and improve their academic, social and emotional functioning. Increasingly, there is interest in how mentoring can also benefit mentors. Marc Freedman, in his prescient book, The Kindness of Strangers, described mentoring as a “social program for adults” that offers “one of the few opportunities in our society today for bringing adults from the social and economic mainstream into direct contact with disadvantaged youth” (p. 131) and lifts “the veil of social innocence” (p. 132). But a recent New York Times article on first generation college students got me thinking about how the benefits are greater than that.

Mentoring can create opportunities for the strengths and assets of marginalized youth to come forward and shine to the benefit of us all. One student featured in the accompanying video on the NY Times website, cited empathy as one of the strengths he brings to the table, calling out an “empathy gap” in America that impedes social change. How right he is and how glad I am that he has found his way to a college education. I can’t wait to see what he does with his powerful education and his powerful empathy. He and the other students featured in this story are coming together to build their strength through community and make space for themselves in places where they have too often hidden because they have felt out of place or even like impostors. I’d like to believe that a mentor or two (or more!) have been encouraging these bright young people on their journey. But what I know is that there can and should be mentors in their lives, nurturing their strengths and capabilities and playing some part in helping them to realize their dreams. It is our responsibility, for sure, but we are also in great need of what they have to offer.

Freedman, M. (1993). The Kindness of strangers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Pappano, L. (2015, April 12). First Generation Students Unite. The New York Time Education Life,pp. 18-21).

By Jean Rhodes April 16, 2015

The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring