What does being a mentor mean?

At last night’s ongoing training for FOCUS mentors, we got a refresher course in the concept of motivational interviewing, but we also dove into the questions: What does being a mentor mean? What does a mentoring relationship look like?

We all agreed that mentoring is a unique relationship. For ex-offenders, mentors are a totally new type of relationship that’s somewhere between a corrections officer and a friend. FOCUS mentors particularly exploit the fact that they aren’t part of the system and can play a unique role of being a supportive person in someone’s life. For this reason we refer to the ex-offenders in our program as “mentees” rather than “clients”. The relationship is meant to be a dynamic one, where the mentee’s own solutions and reasons for change are centered.

This unique role can cause tensions as well. Mentees can be unsure of who this person is, coming into jail, trying to talk about their life. Should they trust them? Why are they here?

Success in mentoring relationships doesn’t just happen, it has to grow. Last night our mentors discussed some qualities of a mentor that allow these relationships to flourish:

  • Safe and non-judgmental
  • Open, allows room for mentee’s own answers
  • Respectful of the mentee as an autonomous person
  • Smiles and communicates warmth genuinely
  • Stays positive, while accepting low-points in a person’s life
  • Has empathy. This doesn’t mean they excuse or approve of the mentee’s behavior, but they let go of their judgments and sees the mentee’s perspective
  • Creative and flexible
  • Reliable, consistent, and dedicated: often very different from the normal relationships an ex-offender encounters, and can be a great way to model life skills

All of these qualities allow the mentor to build rapport with and gain the trust of their mentee, as they enter into this unique relationship. As our trainer said last night, this has to be the soil from which a relationship grows. Additional tools and techniques can be employed, but these qualities have to be the foundation.

This is why we don’t require our volunteer mentor’s to have counseling experience, instead we value individuals with unique backgrounds who are willing to share their creativity and passion with the program and their mentees. (To learn more about mentoring, visit our website)

We also want to hear what you think! What does being a mentor mean to you? What do you think are the qualities of a good mentor?


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