Natalie Patterson has been meeting with her mentee for the past six years. The conversations used to be more about typical elementary and middle school concerns, but now her mentee is in high school, and serious discussions are coming around about her steps after graduation.
Patterson is the director of Greenville and Spartanburg Mentor Upstate. Since Mentor Upstate can’t be in schools, it’s looking to connect with students in other ways. In the meantime, the organization has had to cut much of its operations.
The idea of Mentor Upstate was for people in the community to spend a meal with a student once a week to provide a consistent and stable adult in their lives, she says.
“All of us got where we are because somebody helped us get there,” says Patterson. “The idea is really just that there are a lot of children [for whom a] lack of consistency of a stable adult in their life is why it’s harder for them to be successful.”
School districts have barred volunteers from campuses in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but that’s also meant that mentors aren’t able to see their mentees. For Mentor Upstate, since the organization can’t be in the schools, it’s looking to connect the students in other ways. In the meantime, they’ve had to cut much of their operations.
Whitney Hanna has been in both worlds of the school district and mentorship organizations. Not only does Hanna serve as coordinator of community collaboration with Greenville County Schools, but she’s also a board member with the Greenville County Mentoring Collaborative.
The collaborative formed from several people who saw a need to coordinate efforts to mentor Greenville’s youth, says Hanna. “They saw an opportunity to help those organizations work together and collaborate more across the community and also look at resource sharing.”
When the collaborative estimated the number of students who had mentors in Greenville County, they came up with only about 2%, says Hanna. The national average, according to the collaborative, is 8%.
“That put us at a 6% deficit of mentors, which, when you calculate that out, that was 4,000-plus mentors that we were missing in Greenville County,” Hanna says.
Both Patterson and Hanna are concerned about not being able to go into the schools. Due to the emotional and mental toll, many of these students would benefit from their mentor relationship, they say.
Not all programs have stopped running, Hanna notes, and they all need support right now.
“Reaching out to a mentoring organization or the mentoring collaborative and putting your name on the list to be ready in the wings when we’re able to connect with us again would be really great,” she says.
Benefits for mentors:
- Increased self-esteem
- A sense of accomplishment
- A network of fellow volunteers
- A better understanding of childhood, adolescence and young adulthood
- Increased patience