Strong mentors are needed

The recent conviction of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, and the subsequent findings of the Louis Freeh Report, provide a sobering opportunity to look more carefully at what constitutes a positive, safe and effective mentoring program. The sexual abuse suffered by several young males affiliated with Sandusky’s charity, Second Mile, gives us all reason for reflection and clearly suggests the importance of “community checks and balances.”

Any mentoring program worth its salt must be linked and highly accountable to the broader community.

There are some things about mentoring of which I am absolutely certain: Everything that is called mentoring is not; we as a community have an obligation to recognize the difference. Most mentors and aspiring mentors are good and decent people who just want to do the right thing and make the world a lot better one child at a time. There must be consistent means to ferret out those that do mean harm. Parents must be actively involved in the process, with the mentee’s best interest as the single-most important priority. Parents are, in fact, primary stakeholders in the mentor-mentee relationship. Every adult has a moral and legal responsibility to act decisively on behalf of the children entrusted to our care.

In metro Atlanta, there are over 350,000 children who could benefit from the positive impact of having a mentor. BBBSMA, one of the largest one-to-one mentoring programs in the Southeast, reaches only 3,400 each year. The need is great and no one organization can address it all. According to the National Mentoring Partnership, mentoring programs should adhere to standards that include:

Recruitment: Recruit appropriate mentors and mentees by realistically describing the program’s objectives and measurable outcomes.

Monitoring and support: Mentoring relationships should be monitored and milestones should be documented; mentors should also be provided ongoing advice, problem-solving support and training opportunities for the duration of the relationship.

Closure: The mentoring organization should facilitate the process of bringing the mentoring relationship to a close in a way that affirms contributions of the mentor and the mentee.

These standards of practice serve as a baseline for what every mentoring program must have. Programs like Big Brother Big Sisters go beyond the basics and provide a strong professional organizational infrastructure that not only ensures safety but also, improves social, psychological and academic outcomes.

For mentoring information, or to identify a mentor for your child, visit our website at www.bbbsatl.org.

Janice McKenzie-Crayton is president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta (BBBSMA).

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