In honor of National Mentoring Month, we asked STRIVE mentor Luke Juday to reflect on his 3+ years working with 12th grader Redoane. STRIVE matches high school boys with Christian adult male mentors for all four years of high school and the first year post high school. Over those 5 years they build a relationship, create and work towards goals, and learn about God’s love together. Here’s what Luke had to say:
What is the most rewarding thing about being a mentor?
As someone who has yet to raise children or teach for years or do some other job where you work with kids over an extended period of time, it’s been incredible to watch someone mature from a teenager into an adult, see them learn things, change their life, take responsibility, experience setbacks, and start to think for themselves. The experience of seeing someone grow and change rapidly gives a lot of meaning to life as you see that people aren’t static – they’re all living out a story of some kind that can go in so many different directions and is affected by so many things.
What is the hardest thing about being a mentor?
The hardest thing is figuring out what to say or how much to take responsibility when I see Redoane making decisions that I don’t agree with or that aren’t quite how I would do it. On the one hand, I’ve learned nobody makes good decisions just because you tell them to – he’s got to try it himself. And pretty frequently he knows what’s best for himself better than I do. But on the other hand, sometimes I wonder if I failed to say something at the right time or should have been pushier and could have helped more.
What do you say to people considering being a mentor?
I think if you are reasonably stable in life and have the time, just do it. Don’t worry too much about whether you’ll be good at it or whether it’ll be worthwhile – you will be and it will be. I do think you need to consider how long you’ll be able to stick it out, though. Charlottesville has lots of young people who want to occasionally do something in the community. As a result, there are lots of opportunities for kids in this area to come into contact with people that want to make an impact on them in a short time. But what they really need is people who will stick with them longer than that and be there for them and be reliable.
What is the best advice you can give a new mentor?
Don’t try to accomplish anything – especially not right away. Realize that you’re dealing with a nearly-grown human being who has the freedom to do what he wants with his life and you won’t dramatically change the course of it overnight by showing up once a week and trying to push a particular vision of success. Don’t make too much of a thing about it. If you have a couple years to work with them, spend the first year just doing fun stuff and being consistent until they see that you aren’t going anywhere and that you care about them. When Redoane was in 9th and early 10th grade, I didn’t really know what to do. So we didn’t do much more than grab lunch, hang out, and occasionally talk about grades. I would go to his soccer games a lot, which I found out later had affected him deeply. Like most things I’ve done that made a big impression on him, I had no idea at the time. Then suddenly one day at a pizza place, he started talking for a long time about his frustrations and what was really going on in his head and from that point on, he trusted me.
Also, this is a lesson I thought I already had learned, but I hadn’t. People don’t grow or change because you criticize them for doing badly. They grow when they know they mean something to other people and that they are valued just for being themselves.
What are your favorite things to do with Redoane?
I love the times we’ve caught each other in passing or I’ve given him a ride to something or shown up to a game and we’re just hanging out with him and his friends. He’s such a fun and easy person to be around and loves pulling me into his life and introducing me to anybody he can. I’m always excited to have anybody I know meet him – he’s got a magnetic personality and can be outrageously funny.