My Turn: January 2011 is the 10th Annual National Mentoring Month

Posted: Monday, January 03, 2011

January can be a tough month — especially in Alaska. Winter is getting old and cold, the light isn’t coming back fast enough, and those holiday bills are starting to arrive.

But January can also be great – it’s a clean slate for a new year, full of possibilities. Resolutions and new beginnings abound – and, even if it’s a little slow, the light IS coming back.

January is the perfect time to start something. Start something good, something fun, something that will have a positive impact on your life, on another’s life and on the community. January is a great time to Start Something Big in the life of a child by becoming or sponsoring a Big Brother, Big Sister or Big Couple – a mentor – as January is also National Mentoring Month.

National Mentoring Month, a joint project of the Corporation for National and Community Service, The Harvard Mentoring Project, and MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this January. We hope that people all across the community and the state will take some time this month to think about all of the mentors who helped shape their lives, and consider becoming a mentor themselves as a way to pay it forward for the help they have received.

While mentoring can happen naturally through extended families, caring teachers, coaches, pastors and friends, far too often these days children grow up far removed from extended family and don’t have the benefit of a caring and consistent mentor in their lives. In addition, in the interest of convenience we are facilitating ways to avoid human contact. We text instead of talking, we shop on the internet, and when we do go to the store, we can check ourselves out. We pump our own gas, we go to the ATM and do our own banking, and the list goes on. That lack of human contact, compounded with the many challenges that come with living in this vast and diverse state, is taking a toll on our young people. According to the latest averaged statewide results of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 20% of students reported that they feel alone, 23% feel that they don’t matter to their community, and 16% have seriously considered suicide. That is just not acceptable in this caring community and state. Formal mentoring programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters create the kinds of relationships that will keep children from feeling alone, assure them that they are valued by their community and that they have the right to a positive future and deserve a chance to succeed in school and in life.

Being a mentor isn’t hard, nor do you need to be a perfect person to be a good mentor! In as little as an hour a week (2 to 4 times a month), you can discover what fun it is to see the world through the eyes of a child, sharing activities you enjoy to expand a youngster’s horizons. Mentoring is sharing time, attention and friendship – whether visiting a child at school or taking in a movie or a hike on the weekend – it’s a great way to make a difference while having a good time. And you aren’t on your own in this adventure. The staff at Big Brothers Big Sisters will match you with a child whose interests and personality is a good fit with your own; they’ll help you develop a friendship, and work through any challenges you might encounter.

Whether you are a high school or college student looking for a meaningful way to do community service, or active or retired military who would like to provide some extra support to a student who will soon be impacted by a scheduled deployment, or someone who just enjoys the chance to act like a kid once in awhile, becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister could be the perfect way for you to start something wonderful this January. To start something that will enrich your life and have a lasting positive impact on a child, call your local Big Brothers Big Sisters office today — or contact us through our website at Start something Big!

• Bob Coghill is the development director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska.

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