5 Things I Learned From Mentoring
Thanks to my very short-lived notoriety from reality TV stints, I've been fortunate enough to participate in some wonderful charities, fundraisers, and events. I've helped with raising money, volunteering, and some other weird stuff. Animals, cancer, kids, autism, homelessness, education-you name it. Chicago is a town known for nonprofits and I think it speaks to the good, grounded people of the Midwest. And you don't have to go very far to find a great charity to get involved with (just ask me and I can help you find one).
Volunteering in education has always been one of my favorite activities. I'm no stranger to mentoring (I've been a mentor at my alma mater for several years), but last year I was introduced to a program that changed my life (and questioned my sanity at times). Spark, a national volunteer program for underserved youth, contacted me one day and asked me to get involved. My immediate reaction:
1) This guy clearly didn't watch Bachelor Pad, so I instantly qualified him as a respectable human being, and gave him my undivided attention.
2) But If he did watch, that's cool. Not only is he one of the 900 viewers of Bachelor Pad, but he's also the one guy in the galaxy that trusts "Cold Tub Ted" with kids. By the way, I do not know that guy.
3) There's no way I can handle another charity right now.
After about 15 minutes of talking through the program, I agreed to attend the next orientation later that month. It was organized well, in a professional environment (KPMG), which for me, established credibility and overall tone for the program right away.
It wasn't until the kickoff event, where we met our mentees, that I realized how this was going to impact my life. I drove down to the North Lawndale neighborhood (home of the Vice Lords for all you Gangland fans), walked through the triple-posted security detail, and made my way to a smoldering hot gymnasium of Legacy Charter School. Not only was I a few minutes late, but I was suddenly facing 200 teenagers from one of Chicago's most notorious neighborhoods. But wait, they were well-dressed...and well mannered? I then learned that Legacy was a limited, application-only public school that refers to their students as scholars. The moment I was introduced to my mentee, a little guy named Brian, I realized that I was also matched with someone very special. Brian's father, Brian Sr., was also there to greet me with a big, friendly, humble smile. It was clear that both of them were excited to be a part of this program. Eventually I became more comfortable, concluding that nobody in this gym would be asking me questions about The Bachelor...amen!
Throughout that upcoming 10-week semester I would learn a lot about teenagers...and having them in your office....at 3pm on Friday afternoons. But I can honestly say after a long week, the one kid that can make me laugh is Brian. It's hard to tell what he's referencing here, but he's basically making fun of me, which is exactly what I needed at times:
I also learned a lot about myself, and how easily we all get caught up in our mundane, daily routines.
Top 5 Things I Learned From Mentoring:
- Teenagers are like executives. Keep it short, simple, and sweet. They both have the attention spans of fruit flies, so use your time wisely.
- Teenagers have great ideas. They bring you out of your comfort zone. And if you're in an idea rut, try this: Ask them how they would handle your challenge. You'll be amazed.
- Kids are honest. And smarter than you think. They will judge you. They will conquer you.
- Positive life experience. Both mentors and mentees will have a life experience to remember.
- They're going to be fun. Yes, someday I would definitely like my own. And that's a chapter in life I'm looking forward to even more after having this experience.