We have just launched our new mentoring training after years of development.
In some ways this training isn’t new- it is a culmination of the experience and skills of ten youth workers who have been honing their practice for more than ten years. It is the result of some successes and many mistakes made on the way but these mistakes have led to learning and innovation. Over the years youth workers at Innovista have mentored numerous young people facing a range of challenges; poverty, neglect, broken relationships, anxiety, ill-health, and the list goes on. Though they are unique in their challenges and circumstances, they all share one thing – potential. Young people with challenging backgrounds may never know the potential they have because of the weight of what they carry. They carry disappointment, loss, frustration, anger, and grief. They carry the names they have been called and the reputation of their communities. They carry accusations and abuse. As mentors we can lighten that load. Though we cannot fully remove the things that weigh on them, we can share the burden and journey with them in compassion and understanding.
When we show up every week on time, we communicate they are important. When we keep coming back even when they refuse to answer the door, we show them they are valuable. When we take time to listen to stories from their day at school, the newest trend on TikTok, and the hard things that happened when they were young, we communicate that they are worth listening to. We cannot take the load away but as we spend time with them, build trust and reflect a true picture of who they are, the things that hold them back and trip them up begin to fall away.
That is transformational. Slowly it becomes a little bit easier to get up in the morning and the dreams they have don’t feel as far out of reach.
Mentoring isn’t easy. Inevitably, what young people carry might stick to us too. Compassion fatigue can set in and motivation can wane. How can mentors stay healthy and energised as they pour out love for another? Here’s a few things we have learnt over the years.
- Make time: Mentoring is often a long term journey with someone. At Innovista relationships typically last 12-18 months. Circumstances change and life will have its ups and downs so ensure you have carved out time with some wiggle room. If you’re shoehorning in a meeting with a young person it’s likely they will be the first thing you strike off your list when a close friend or family member needs your help. Be realistic. If you are serious about supporting a young person then you may have to stop doing something else to make room for the unexpected.
- Set boundaries: Boundaries come in all shapes and sizes and the important thing to remember is it is not one size fits all. Start by reminding yourself what you want to protect. What is the good in your life you want to keep emotional, mental and physical energy for. How will you stay topped up personally? Boundaries may include topics of conversation: if a young person starts sharing about some past trauma you can gently signpost them to a counsellor or trained professional who is set up to respond appropriately. Boundaries also include what you share of your life. One of the greatest gifts we can give as mentors are consciously chosen stories from our experience. The right story at the right time can provoke discussion and a new way of thinking. However carelessly sharing personal information can be dangerous. Be appropriately vulnerable for the benefit of the young person you are supporting, not for your own benefit. Maybe you have had a bad day and though it is good to model honesty if they ask, this is not your space to vent. Boundaries also include the times you are available, how much money you spend and what you say no to. Each boundary should be carefully thought through to ensure you can give your best.
- Adjust expectations: What do you imagine when you think of the ideal mentoring relationship. Are you best mates or the mum or dad they never had? Are you always laughing? Are they opening up about their deepest secrets with ease? Or is it awkward and you feel out of your depth? It can be unhelpful to enter into a mentoring relationship with expectations. Sometimes mentoring relationships just don’t work. Sometimes young people smash their goals but often there are unplanned setbacks and success is hard to quantify. Some days it may be awkward and you might not know what to say. All these things are normal, even for seasoned mentors. Be prepared, give your best and let go of the expectations that can lead to disappointment.
There are many other tips and learnings we would love to share. Check out our Youth Ministry Training for information about our mentoring course and other training we offer.