Throughout National Mentoring Month, we will be highlighting different perspectives on The Mentor Effect from community leaders across Massachusetts. Today's perspective comes from Mark Edwards of Opportunity Nation. Mark is the executive director at Opportunity Nation, which he launched in 2011 to help tackle the lack of economic mobility. He spent 23 years on the board at Horizons for Homeless Children.
Why do you believe mentoring is important?
The truth is, we all need mentors to help us navigate the path to adulthood. Today, 18 million children in the United States want and need a mentor, but just three million have them. If we want the next generation to succeed in school and find meaningful pathways to careers, we need even more mentors to step up and volunteer their time.
Often, the difference between young people having doors of opportunity opened to them or slammed shut is the presence of caring adults. Getting extra help for a tough Algebra class; encouraging a student to join an after-school club or play a sport; applying to college or technical schools; lending a compassionate ear – these are just a few examples of how mentors help the next generation every day.
At Opportunity Nation, we believe in the power of mentors to change the trajectory of young lives for the better. Across the country, members of the Opportunity Nation coalition such as iMentor, United Way and Boys and Girls Clubs of America are helping millions of children and young adults get on track to a successful future.
Who are some of your mentors and what impact did those individuals have on your life?
I had a high school principal who cared about me deeply and was instrumental to keeping me on track after my mother died when I was 16. He had a way of providing perspective that was so necessary at that time in my life. He, of course, was much older than I was and helped me understand that no matter what, the sun would still rise the following morning. We continued to stay in touch until three years ago, when he died. I will always be grateful that I was able to tell him how important he was to me.
My first job was as a cashier at a supermarket in the South Bronx during the summer after my sophomore year in high school, and the man who ran the produce section was an important mentor. He had none of the advantages I had had – he never went to college and came from a tough family environment – but he administered tough love and compassion in equal measures and I’ll be forever grateful.
To learn how you or your business can get involved, visit www.massmentors.org.