Mentoring is as easy as being a friend

This guest post is from Sheena Collier, the former manager of recruitment & community partnerships at Big Sister Association of Greater Boston. She now works as the senior associate at the Collaborative Communications Group in Washington, D.C. She is a supporter of the Mentors of Color Campaign and the mentoring community in general.

I didn’t have a formal mentor growing up, but I did have caring adults who believed in me throughout different stages in my life. Besides my parents, I had teachers, older sisters and other adults who encouraged me to push harder and reach my potential.

When I became an adult, I served as a mentor for a year in a program in Boston. Like many adults, I feared that my life was not “together” enough and struggled with making my mentoring relationship work. My mentee was already a teenager, dealing with things in her personal life, and I sometimes felt like trying to meet with me was a burden. Years later I ended up working at a mentoring organization and realized that she wasn’t looking for someone who came with certain skills or experiences, she just needed a friend. We later became Facebook friends and she is doing well!

While this misconception can be held by anyone, I think that people in communities of color tend to experience it more. We may have not had a positive adult role model who looks like us, so that we can understand that people are always growing and never “together.” Or we may not be comfortable with formal mentoring programs that highlight requirements and eligibility.

To overcome these challenges, programs should be modeled to build on the informal mentoring that already happens in many communities. Adults should remember that this is not about what you have accomplished. It is about building a relationship that will help guide your mentee’s life, enhance yours, and hopefully last for years to come.