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January series showcases mentoring

It makes sense intuitively: a concerned, committed adult in a child’s life makes a difference — a significant, life-altering difference.

Research backs up the importance of mentoring.

In recognition of January as National Mentoring Month, the Chicago Sun-Times, working with the nonprofit Illinois Mentoring Partnership, will feature a monthlong series of articles highlighting dedicated mentoring programs, mentors and mentees in the region.

More than 200 mentoring programs benefit from the Illinois Mentoring Partnership, which works to help organizations meet best practices in mentoring, including providing appropriate support and adequate screening for volunteer mentors.

“Most of our programs serve economically disadvantaged youth, but our biggest concern is serving young people who have disadvantages in any number of ways,” said Illinois Mentoring Partnership Executive Director Sheila M. Merry. National research shows that one in three people never had anyone they looked to as a mentor, and kids who are most at-risk also are the least likely to find one, Merry said.

Research shows mentoring is linked with positive personal and professional outcomes, including higher rates of high school and college graduation, as well as fewer forays into violence and substance abuse.

“Absolutely anybody can be a powerful mentor in a young person’s life,” said Merry, who added that one of the most essential components to being a good mentor is following through on the commitment.

“It’s about doing what you say you’re going to do; kids don’t expect us to have all the answers,” she said.

A landmark Public/Private Ventures study agrees, noting it’s not the kind of activities mentor/mentee pairs share, but the presence of a caring adult in whom they can confide  and look up to that makes the long-term difference.

“As any of us who have been a mentor can attest, you get a lot more back than you put in. It’s an amazing experience to be an important person in a young person’s life, to see them grow and achieve their potential, something they might not be able to do otherwise,” Merry said.

The Illinois Mentoring Partnership is kicking off a corporate challenge this month to create a culture where the corporate community is engaged in mentoring. For information on becoming a mentor, visit ilmentoring.org.

Editor’s note: Susan J. White is a freelance writer for the mentoring partnership.