Mentoring Tips from a Big Brothers Big Sisters Volunteer
Cindi Neaves knows firsthand the power mentoring can have on a young person’s life through her participation with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program for the past 14 years.
She volunteers with the organization’s Lunch Buddies — a program in which participants visit a child once a week at school to eat lunch and socialize.
“For some of my Lunch Buddies, this is the best part of their school day; they get a smile, a hug and feel like they are the most important person in the whole world, which they are,” said Neaves, a systems analyst with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
BBBS provides at-risk children with enduring one-on-one mentoring relationships that forever change their lives for the better. The extra attention makes a lasting impact on how these children view themselves by letting them know that someone really does care about them.
Neaves volunteers her time to the program because she understands the role mentoring plays in helping youth make good decisions and avoid risky behaviors. Through her experience, she has learned some tips for being an effective mentor:
Build trust. Value the mentee as a person by developing mutual trust and respect.
Be consistent. Always show up on time. If you are going to be late, text or call to let someone know.
Be patient. Wait for them to tell you what they need. Help the mentee solve his or her own problem, rather than give direction.
Be flexible. A lot of mentors make the mistake of trying to set rules and boundaries. Take the time to see the world from the mentee’s perspective.
Don’t underestimate mentees
Neaves remembers how one mentee was belligerent and demanding when they first began their four-year relationship. She recently heard from the young woman, who graduated as her high school’s valedictorian and received a scholarship to the University of Michigan to study robotics. She followed Neaves’ advice about learning to play a musical instrument and taking part in sports.
“She did everything that I mentioned to her that I thought was over her head. Don’t underestimate the person you’re mentoring, because they are absorbing things, even when they act like they aren’t listening. She’s proof that mentoring does work,” Neaves said. “She told me, ‘You taught me that I can be better than what I thought I was. You still set goals in your life. I started listening to what you were saying because I realized I wanted to be like you.’”
For Neaves, mentoring is a way to repay the support she received after her mother lost custody of her children due to neglect and abuse. Her stepfather became her unofficial mentor.
“He was always there, no matter where I was. He helped me to get on my feet. So, I’m paying forward what was given to me,” Neaves said.
‘Part of my family’
She’s currently a mentor, or “Big,” to her “Little,” Carlos, whom she has been supporting since 2014. During the pandemic, they stay connected through video chats and phone calls.
“He’s become like a part of my family. We’ve gone on many fun outings together, like seeing movies, going out to eat, and attending Detroit Tigers and Red Wings games,” she said.
When she recently completed her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, Carlos asked to come to her graduation ceremony. As part of the experience, she asked him to put on her cap, gown and honor cords and stand in front of a mirror so he could see what a college graduate looks like.
“He says this may not be a reality,” Neaves said. “I said, ‘I’m 50-something years old, and when I got out of high school, I had all these ideas. I was going to be a computer programmer when computers were first coming out. I could have made beaucoup money if I stuck with my plan. But I wouldn’t have ever met you. God has a reason for everything.’”
For the past 22 years, Blue Cross has partnered with BBBS in raising funds to help support their mentorship program for local at-risk youth. BBBS is in need of donations now, more than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic and shelter-in-place orders have been particularly challenging for families that rely on community support agencies.
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Photo credit: Cindi Neaves