January is National Mentoring Month. For many young people great role models and mentors are a part of their everyday lives. Relatives, teachers, and neighbors often serve in that role. Finding positive role models for youth in the foster care system is often more difficult. Luckily, role models and mentors don’t always have to be people that we know personally. There is something we can learn from everyone that we meet and every situation we encounter…positive or negative.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that youth often find role models and mentors on radio, television, movies, and the internet. I count it as a requirement of the job to be up to date on current youth culture and trends. If we want to be able to connect with youth we have to be aware of what is going on their world. As an adult, I may not always understand why the people who are hot are hot. I may not always agree with the latest fashion fads or musical chart toppers but the knowledge is essential. (Did I tell you that I hope that the trend of boys wearing skinny jeans fades away VERY soon and that I am not a Nicki Minaj fan?) Once when I was facilitating a workshop I had a young lady tell me that Keisha Cole was her role model. I had never thought of Keisha Cole as a role model so I asked the young lady to explain why she admired Keisha. Her response was that she and Keisha Cole had overcome many of the same obstacles including surviving foster care. She found strength in the fact that Keisha had not let her challenges prevent her from reached her dreams of becoming a successful singer. That made perfect sense to me. In addition to activities that introduce youth to celebrities with college degrees and using movies such as The Blind Side to discuss changes that need to be made in the foster care system, I also assure the youth that I work with that they can also find positive role models and mentors in books. I believe that we should meet youth where they are and gently guide them to the next level. We must help them grow into their potential. I think it is essential to encourage reading and to let young people know that within the pages of a book they can introduce themselves to successful people and use both their successes and failures as a guide to help them become the person they want to be.
Nicki Sanders, MSW, Chief Visionary Officer
The Teen Toolbox provides youth portfolio development and civic engagement and academic enrichment opportunities to help teens set goals for life after high school and create a road map to reach those goals through its PACKAGED FOR SUCCESS™ Programs.