It has come to my attention that January is National Youth Mentoring month. Per Wikipedia, it was started in 2002 by the Harvard School of Public Health, MENTOR, and the Corporation for National and Community Service to promote youth mentoring. I’ve been planning this post on role models, and it seems this month is the perfect time for it.
Have you ever wondered if you could make a positive impact on someone’s life? A lot of us don’t think we have what it takes to make a difference, or that it takes a special type of person. Usually, it just takes a normal person that cares.
Kids have so many negative influences in their lives. It seems harder and harder to find positive influences. It comes from every direction: TV, games, friends, it goes on and on. It’s not just the kids, though. Young adults face the same challenges.
It’s not really a “these days” thing, though. I remember when I was a teenager how easy it was to find negative influences. I wasn’t one of the popular kids, but the popular kids weren’t immune. No one was.
One person from that period in my life really stands out. He was a police officer named Don McNeil. We met when I had run away from home; the police picked me up and took me to the station for my mom to come and fetch me. Don noticed my level of distress and sat and talked with me. He was able to calm me down when everyone else I encountered just scared me.
Later, Don would look in on me and my sister to make sure we were doing alright. He befriended several of the teens in our small town. I always knew he would be there when I needed to talk. He was almost a father figure. He gave advice when it was needed, and I never remember feeling judged by him. However, he did use the term, “knuckleheads”, to refer to boys in whom my sister and I took interest.
Don became a person I didn’t want to disappoint. Not that I never messed up. I certainly did that. I remember a particularly stupid escapade my friends and I took part in. When Don found out, he rounded us all up and made us make it right. It could have been much worse, but I don’t think any consequences could have been more effective than seeing the disappointment on Don’s face and the way he handled us.
Don made a permanent impact on my life. He was a powerful role model, who just happened to be in a position of authority, at a time I needed it so much. He was not bossy and intimidating, but he could be authoritative when necessary. Mostly, I remember his kindness and his presence. I cannot imagine life if I had never met him. Although, I still made my share of mistakes, what would it have been like if I had not had that one person? That person who had no obligation to spend an extra second of his life on me, but chose to anyway.
So often, I wished there had been a Don around for my kids. Would it have made a difference? There is no way to know. I like to think it could have made some difference, even if it were small—scale. I remember plenty of adults who made them feel unworthy, or not good enough. But very few who spoke love and life to them.
A couple of ladies offered that to my daughter for a while. I was immensely grateful for them. Sometimes teens need affirmation from more than just their parents. It often means more coming from a person who is under no obligation. Also, teenagers are such emotional creatures that, they need someone to talk to outside of family. I never remember anyone outside of immediate family being that for my sons, although I also realize they made it kind of hard for anyone to want to be around them.
Even as adults, we have times when we need someone who has been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt. In my late thirties, my husband and I were trying to make the right decisions for our family, trying to hold the reins on out—of—control teenagers, and our lives were being turned upside down. We met Ed and Judy about this time, and they became close friends of ours. Judy became my best friend, but more than that, she was a mentor and a prayer warrior. Ed and Judy’s experiences in their lives put them in a perfect position to lend strength to us.
This all recalls the verses in Titus 2:1-8, which instruct older women to mentor the younger women, and older men to mentor the younger men.
Here’s the big challenge: is there someone to whom we can be a role model? Obviously, not everyone can be a Don. I’m sure that man was a saint, and will never be convinced otherwise. Most of us can do something on a smaller scale. Do you know an angry teenager who could use a smile, or an ear, or a shoulder? Are you a mature adult, who could be a positive influence to a younger adult? It’s not the easiest thing. Teens and young adults often seem to already know it all, but they see what their older counterparts do. They hear the words we say, they see how we treat people, how we react to stress. It doesn’t have to be a mission. Sometimes the smallest of acts can make a huge difference in a person’s life.
Just words to ponder. Thanks for reading, and be blessed!