There’s been a lot of discussion in the offices of the Give Something Back Foundation surrounding what qualities we should be looking for in our mentors, and how to pair these mentors with our scholarship recipients. We are in the process of recruiting mentor volunteers for our New Jersey and Delaware programs, so the topic is timely.

Kindness, transparency and a sense of humor, are what one female colleague suggested we should seek out in these individuals.

She also mentioned what her late father, who immigrated to America in 1957, told her as a child: Real mentors are magical and rare and change your life. It’s so important to recognize when one has crossed your path. It’s a cosmic plant. A gift.

Another colleague felt optimistic and upbeat are two of the most important qualities. The book Mentors: They Simply Believe, by Thomas J. Lasley, argues that a critical characteristic of mentors is the ability to communicate their belief that their mentee is capable of rising above life’s challenges and achieving great things. Communicating hope is essential in these relationships.

Our executive director for the foundation’s New Jersey and Delaware programs agreed. When there’s hope, the impossible seems more possible, she said.

We could all use a little more hope.

We also discussed the importance of matching our scholars with mentors with whom they had a lot in common. MENTOR, the national mentoring partnership, says matching mentors and mentees based on similarities such as age, gender, race and ethnicity, and mutual interest is frequently recommended.

To that, another colleague contributed this: As a gay man, I wish as a young person I had had a gay man mentor — not about gay things but about the world, how to navigate it while just happening to be gay. I imagine it could be similar if I were black; there’s just an innate connection. 

Commitment. Some of these kids have had so many family members come and go throughout their lives; people who said they were gonna show up, but never did. Committing to the success of our scholars and having them know you are there for them — that you’ll show up — makes all the difference.

I’m reminded of what Winston Churchill said: We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.  

The goal of the Give Something Back Foundation’s mentoring program is to get our scholars focused on becoming the best they can be and then go on to help others do the same thing. If we can do that, ultimately we’ll break the cycle of poverty and bring hope into their lives. That’s what we’re looking for.

What qualities do you think a good mentor should possess?