Don’t underestimate your importance as a mentor

January is National Mentoring Month. It’s intended to bring focus and attention to the growing need for caring adult role models to invest time and friendship with hurting youth.

Mentoring is also needed if we are to fill future jobs with confident, competent, educated and well-adjusted workers.

To me, youth mentoring is very personal. My father passed away when I was 10 years old; I was raised in a single-parent home. If you follow the statistics and expert opinion, I was what many would label as being “at risk.”

I would not be who I am today were it not for the help of several natural mentors who stepped in to my story. My pursuit of career, education, starting a family and contributing to causes that required sacrifice were all gifts from those who had influence in my life.

With an estimated 20 million youths in the United States who’ve indicated that they want a mentor, clearly the movement needs more volunteers to step in and share their time and talent. Mentors typically spend an hour or two weekly, one-to-one with their protege.

Duncan Campbell, retired businessman and philanthropist from Portland, Ore., founded Friends of the Children. This 20-year mentoring program is having profound impacts in the lives of young men and women.

“We need to move beyond short-term fixes and realize that a long-term commitment to our most vulnerable children generates a significant future return on our investment,” remarked Campbell. “In today’s troubled economic climate, we give our children something that does not decrease in value: unconditional love.”

Sure, mentoring can help a kid. Surprisingly, what we know from research is that volunteers report getting back more in return than what they put in.

Mentoring opportunities throughout any community will range from a formal, professionally administered program to those where natural mentors step in to a friendship informally. Natural mentors may come from a faith community, or they might be neighbors, coaches, teachers or family friends who see the chance to go above and beyond to befriend a youth.

Mentoring can also be shaped by certain areas of common interest including music, education, hobbies, sports or even a type of apprenticeship. Through mentoring, youth learn and develop particular life skills, confidence and competency to engage in positive reciprocal friendship with adults. This will carry forward into the classroom and later when they join the workforce.

Jan. 1, I will be stepping away from my teaching role at Everett Community College and will also be setting aside this column to focus on a newly formed leadership role with the Christian Association of Youth Mentoring. I’ve served on the CAYM board for the past five years.

My prior work experience includes consulting with mentoring programs with the U.S. Education Department, Communities in Schools, Compassionate Ministries and Washington State Mentors. I was the director of marketing and recruitment with Big Brothers Big Sisters of King and Pierce counties for five years and served on the BBBS board in Snohomish County over the last nine years.

Professionally, I worked in the circulation department at The Seattle Times for 20 years where I learned many of life’s valuable lessons. It was my mentor who steered me to apply for a position at The Times; and in 1994, 15 years into my tenure, I would become his boss.

Education is a great outlet for mentoring. And as a teacher, I’ve forged many friendships with students and successful entrepreneurs over the years. Education can add tremendous value for those who stay engaged. But what about the students — young or old — who have simply fallen through the cracks?

Whether you’re mentoring a youth, co-worker or even a neighbor; just know that this is going to have a lasting impact on you as well. It’s the greatest gift that will not fit in a tidy package, topped with a bow and placed under a tree. It’s truly a gift of the heart.

The Harvard Mentoring Project celebrates 12 years as co-creators of National Mentoring Month. One of the themes that resonated as an effective way to grow the movement is to emphasize the following tagline: “Who mentored you? Thank them, and pass it on.”

So to my mentor, Paul Darlington of Edmonds, I say Thank you! Your example of integrity, hard work, patience, persistence and belief in my hope-filled future has paid off. In honor of your positive influence in my life, I carry this gift and pay it forward for others to experience.

In closing, I want to thank readers, critics and mentors who’ve helped shape some of my ideas and broaden some of my viewpoints in relation to small business and entrepreneurship.

Juergen Kneifel is a senior associate faculty member in the Everett Community College business program. Please send your comments to entrepreneurship@everettcc.edu.

Editor’s note

The Herald would like to thank Juergen Kneifel for his years of thought-provoking and informative columns in its business pages.

This column on small business and entrepreneurship will continue its twice-monthly schedule on the first and third Mondays of the month. The column will be written by:

Pat Sisneros, who is vice president of College Services at EvCC and a longtime small business owner. Sisneros previously had contributed to this column for several years. His interest in the work and vitality of local entrepreneurs is reason for his return to the column.

Ryan Davis is the newly appointed dean of the Business and Workforce Education department at EvCC. His perspective following several years in private industry will also serve as a welcome addition for readers.

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