April 8, 2021

Navigating the virtual mentoring relationship – we need mentors now more than ever

By Jordan Miles, volunteer and marketing administrator

If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that personal connections and relationships can be a saving grace when we feel isolated. We’ve been doing our part to social distance to keep our friends and family safe, but doing everything from afar (or virtually) can be draining. 

For the first time in 25 years, Take Stock in Children had to transition to a virtual platform for its services, which includes mentoring, college success coaching and college readiness workshops for middle and high school students across the state of Florida. This transition presented a series of challenges with one of the biggest questions being, “how will we keep our mentors and students engaged and connected?” After tracking down students, updating contact information and setting up Zoom accounts, our team has been able to host 4,000 mentor sessions since March 2020 thanks to the dedication of our volunteers and their commitment to their students.

This program wouldn’t exist without the support of our volunteer mentors. While our team is able to meet quarterly with students to talk about grades, behavior, attendance and future plans, the volunteer mentors are our boots on the ground, meeting with students weekly. They help us identify when their student might be struggling (or succeeding!) if our team hasn’t been able to check in for a while. 

The goal of Take Stock in Children is to break the cycle of poverty through education. All of our students are considered low-income but show the potential to go to and excel in college. Our team provides the college readiness services, but mentors lend their time, talents and experiences to provide real-world advice and connections for our students. In fact, 76% of students who have mentors are more likely to set higher education goals and attend college compared to their peers who did not have mentors (The Mentoring Effect, 2014). 

Mentors are a vital component to help a student find their potential and succeed at the next level.

We need mentors now more than ever.

76% of students who have mentors are more likely to set higher education goals and attend college compared to their peers who did not have mentors.

The Mentoring Effect, 2014

Now, as you’re reading this, it could sound like a lot of pressure to serve as a volunteer mentor. You’re probably thinking “There’s no way I’m qualified for this!” but rest assured, everyone has something to offer as a volunteer mentor. Below are some common questions and concerns our team has gotten from prospective mentors:

I don’t have time to volunteer.

Now it is easier than ever to get involved with Take Stock in Children. Mentor sessions are  being conducted virtually for the first time ever, which means there’s no commute or signing in and out at your student’s school, which means more time to connect! All it takes is 30 minutes per week to change the life of a student.

Do students even want a mentor?

Yes! The one-on-one mentoring relationship is one of the key components of our program. Students are excited to meet their mentors after being accepted into the program. They look forward to having someone in their life who isn’t their parent or teacher, but is someone they can trust and turn to for advice and guidance. 

I wouldn’t know what to talk about with my student.

Meeting your student (mentee) can be a little awkward at first – as it is the first time you meet anybody! But our team trains each one of our mentors one-on-one and provides a TSIC Mentor Toolkit to help guide conversations with your student. Students and mentors can talk about a range of topics from academics to personal life to movies! 

What if my mentee tells me something personal and I don’t know how to help?

Our team is dedicated to helping mentors and students as they navigate their one-on-one relationships. We don’t expect mentors to know every resource available to students, which is where our staff comes in! Our program was the first Take Stock in Children to hire a support coordinator whose role is to help students and families by identifying needs and providing them with mental health and other community resources specific to their situation. Mentors, students and parents are always welcome to reach out to our team with any questions they may have! 

I didn’t go to college so I don’t think I’ll be able to help another student get there. 

Regardless of your background, you have something to offer as a mentor. Our mentors range  from college students and military personnel to engineers, bank tellers and retired community members. No matter what path you’ve taken you can lend your time, talents and experiences to help a student make real-world connections. 

What if my mentee doesn’t want to open up to me?

Getting to know your mentee can be a long process and can depend on the student. We always say “Be as open with your mentee as you want them to be with you.” When mentors share their experiences, failures, and successes with their mentees, it shows them how to be vulnerable in a safe space. Communication takes practice and that’s why we are so thankful for our mentors who help our students find their voices. 

We hope you will consider becoming a volunteer mentor because our Take Stock in Children program is growing rapidly. We recently received nearly 200 student applications and are hoping to bring in more students this spring. Each student needs a one-on-one mentor assigned to them before they can be officially accepted, which means every new mentor who signs up will actually secure their student’s 60-credit Florida Prepaid college scholarship! 

Lend your time, talents, and expertise to help guide a student through middle and high school.