In Real Life Blog Series: Thanks to Our Fantastic Mentors

Brendan Anderson, Marketing & Communications VISTA
August 15th, 2016
Posted In: In Real Life, Mentoring Stories, Uncategorized

Every day, teachers, coaches and colleagues, build natural mentoring relationships with youth through simple interactions. This August, we’ll share stories and resources for mentors and mentees, whether natural or formal, illustrating their role in helping youth develop skills, confidence and social capital. This personal mentoring story, shared by our own MENTOR VISTA Brendan Anderson, speaks to the power of natural mentoring to inspire youth seeking direction. 

If you’ve been reading some of the research guiding the mentoring movement, you might well come to believe that formal mentoring programs constitute the entire movement, instead of only a part. While formal mentoring may be the most direct means of closing the mentoring gap, the reality is sometimes those who could benefit most from a caring adult aren’t enrolled in a formal mentoring program. MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership (MENTOR) is therefore taking this month to recognize the teachers, coaches, camp counselors, family members, and other members of the community who make a real life difference in the lives of youth every day.

From a young age, I was surrounded by family, family-friends, and friends-like-family who encouraged me to chase what I loved, even when what I loved was as impractical as writing stories about knights and dragons. Some people might have thought my love for fantasy absurd (and many said so), but my teachers never allowed me to give up on myself. Every year, at least one teacher listened to the stories I imagined creating and then encouraged me to read more, learn more, write more until I not only learned to trust in my skill as a writer, but came to believe my voice and knowledge held value.

In college, I met Chris, sometimes known on campus as the “Tolkien professor” because, although he teaches courses on medieval literature as well, he’s best known for enthusiastically leading classes on The Lord of the Rings. These are subjects I (of course) love passionately and have often considered teaching myself, so it was only natural that I took to visiting his office after classes at least once a week. We had enough in common to understand the other’s thinking almost instinctively and yet enough different that we never ran out of things to learn. Throughout senior year, I often visited for advice on my thesis, only to sit for the next hour or more discussing the drama of living with roommates, the agony of heartbreak, and (especially) the uncertain future of a career after college.

After I presented my thesis, we again talked about the future. I said then what I had been pondering throughout the year: how could I pursue a career in academia in light of all the sacrifices I saw him make to teach what he loved? His reply took me slightly by surprise: of all the people he knew, he said, he was truly happy with his work. This struck me: the idea that one can be happy while working was not a new one, but the thought that I should find regular and consistent joy in my livelihood has guided my search ever since.

I have been privileged to have such conversations and to know in moments of turmoil, doubt, or confusion that there was always at least one person to whom I could turn. Yet one in three of our nation’s youth grow up without the type of encouragement that helped me find a position with MENTOR.

If you are already a natural mentor, guiding a child from your own wealth of experience, we offer you our resources as compliment to your wisdom. For those interested in making a change through formal mentoring and supporting more youth in need, you can learn more by clicking here. To all mentors, formal and informal, thank you for everything you do. Thank you to those who’ve guided me and, especially, those who serve the future leaders, artists, and thinkers still learning to trust in their dreams.

Thank you for choosing to hear them.


9 million young people in America are in need of a trusted adult in their lives to guide them in moments big and small. Join the In Real Life movement and become an advocate, make a donation or become a volunteer.

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