Shelterwood Mentors: Serving Teens, Growing Spiritually

Shelterwood Mentors dedicate a year of their life to serving our teens as they journey towards restoration. Serving teens is a life-transforming experience, yet comes with unique challenges. For this reason, spiritual development is crucial in the mentoring journey. While mentors are developing teens, they are growing in their own spiritual walk.

“It can take an emotional toll doing this demanding work, so spiritual development is where we grow and find the strength we need to continue serving,” explains JJ Francis. He serves many roles at Shelterwood but most importantly is the Spiritual Development and Community Facilitator to our mentors.

Shelterwood Mentors are young adult men and women who are passionate about helping struggling teens and have a desire to grow in leadership and service in their own personal journey. Mentors, nicknamed “Bigs,” commit to the year-long life-on-life discipleship and hands-on ministry with teenagers. “We give teens grace when they mess up and teach them that they are not a failure and that they are well-loved. We are both their best friend and counselor,” JJ adds.

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While mentors work to develop teens, they are also growing in their own faith.

Rewarding work, certainly — but it isn’t easy, JJ explains. “Coming alongside our brothers and sisters as they face a myriad of issues, we also face our own challenges. In the process of serving and giving to others, mentors learn that God can use our service to build us in the process.”

Having served as a “Big” himself, JJ knows the unique challenges our mentors experience. The spiritual development program is designed to address the one-of-a-kind trials mentors face on the journey. Spiritual development for mentors includes Bible studies, small group discussions, recreation and more. In every aspect, mentors find encouragement from every member of the Shelterwood Team.

“We call each other to a higher standard, and when you have brothers and sisters in the same struggle, you realize you’re not alone in this,” he says. “This is a challenging role, so we need to nurture each other. We lift each other up in everything.”

To guide mentors through their journey, JJ and his team recently developed the “Mentor Discipleship and Leadership Program Guidebook.” The first portion of the guidebook outlines the stages of their journey, from orientation through completion of their Shelterwood year. The second portion of the guide focuses on spiritual resources, including a spiritual gift assessment, spiritual disciplines and tools for personal development. Practical guidance is also offered, as mentors plan for their career post-Shelterwood.

All of the support given through the Leadership and Discipleship program builds a group of mentors who make life-changing impact on the lives of our students. “You see the difference mentors make at every graduation,” he says. “Parents testify that if it weren’t for them, their child would not have made the progress they have.”

“For mentors, this is not just a job or occupation. This is a calling,” JJ says. “Mentors really invest in these students. They are the backbone of our program, and Shelterwood would not be the special place it is without them.”

Goal Setting

images 37 Goal SettingNothing makes my wife and I fight (or laugh) more than when we are forced to ask for directions. Many good comedies have been based on this premise of having a goal and then struggling to attain it. While working with your child to establish a destination or a goal might feel like a comedy of errors at times, it is critical to their development as students and adults.

Chad Smith, the Academic Dean of Shelterwood Academy, has identified four fantastic tips for heading in the right direction when it comes to goal setting.

Set Goals Early

While goal setting might feel intimidating and even unnecessary for young children, learning how to break down a task into bite-sized steps is a critical life skill. As parents, we often get distracted with adult-type goals. Even when our kids are young, we are tempted to establish our own goals for their lives, large cumbersome goals that overwhelm them, are not useful and our kids will often rebel against these directives. Instead, start talking to them about their interests and help them break down their goals in life into smaller steps. Enabling them to experience success early and often will create the motivation necessary to continue setting goals later in life with much more difficult tasks. It will also help them learn to navigate the ups and downs of life they will inevitably experience when trying to attain their desires.

Guide, Don’t Dictate

To have ultimate buy-in from your student, goals need to come from them. The good (and maybe sometimes difficult) part of this is that often they will develop goals based on values they have caught from their parents/guardians. If you have modeled hard work, integrity, education, life-long learning and goal setting, your student will have that as a basis from which to build a vision for his or her own future. Parents that speak often about the benefits of working hard, and focusing on education then have a platform to suggest goals that revolve around achievement in those areas. You may be surprised to find your student sets much tougher goals for himself or herself than you might set for him or her.

Introduce Mentors

Something that can help students gain a vision for their future and a desire to set goals, can be introducing them to people that have accomplished goals themselves. If your child wants to be a doctor when they grow up, set up a meeting with a successful doctor. Perhaps your student wants to be an artist; put her in contact with a successful graphic designer. Maybe your child is questioning whether advanced education is right for them. If so, get together with someone who may have attended college later in life because he or she didn’t realize the importance of education until they had to work without one. Real life contact with people who have walked down the path can be invaluable in giving kids a vision for their own future.

Break Through the Brick Wall

images 36 Goal SettingIf your student refuses to set goals or think about the future, you might feel like banging your head against a brick wall! Kids that don’t want to think about the future are often labeled as “lazy” or even “rebellious,” but in fact, may just feel insecure or anxious. When a student is dealing with doubt about their own abilities, it will often seem as though they just don’t care. Parents can help kids in this position by recognizing relative success. If a student has struggled turning in homework, setting a goal of successfully turning in all work for a week can set up an achievable bar for initial success. This in turn will build confidence, and foster their desire for more success. Eventually the internal narrative playing their mind may begin saying, “Hey, I can actually do this!” At this point, helping them think about bigger goals becomes much more manageable.

Parents want the best for their kids. Helping them set up their future for success through goal setting can be one of the greatest gifts that parents can give!

Our Mentor Mindset

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I was reading a book called Mere Disciple by Jeff Strong the other day in which he described the difference rujon copy e1421970220322 150x150 Our Mentor Mindsetbetween being a follower of Jesus and being his disciple. His metaphor was powerful. He talked of those in Bible times wanting to be so near their rabbi that the dust from his robes would kick up onto theirs and make them dirty. Shelterwood’s mentors are dirty. These young men and women, like the disciples in the New Testament, give up their lives and livelihoods to get closer to Jesus and to become LIKE Him, not just to follow Him. Jesus came to love the broken-hearted and to transform lives. This is exactly what our mentors do each and every day with the students at Shelterwood. My question for the rest of us is how dirty are we?   Are we following Jesus so closely that we can hear Him, talk to Him intimately and trust His leading even when it doesn’t make sense? Or are we following at whatever distance we are comfortable with, content to be selective with His teachings and only hearing Him occasionally when it suits our interests? Jesus calls us to be his disciples, under His mentorship and guidance. We can learn a thing or two from these young adults who want to get dirty with the Rabbi’s dust.

Give us a call to learn more about our Our Mentor Mindset

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Mentoring Relationships

Susan Jekielek, M.A., Kristin A. Moore, Ph.D., and Elizabeth C. Hair, Ph.D. (2002) have spent a great deal of time studying the effectiveness of mentoring relationships. They have found significant improvement in mentees:

  • Significant reductions in school absence
  • Higher college participation
  • Better school attitudes and behavior
  • Less drug and alcohol use
  • Less likelihood of hitting others
  • More positive attitudes toward their elders and toward helping
  • Improved parental relationships and support from peers

Jekielek and others found that higher-quality mentoring relationships were built upon structure and planning. Success was much more likely when there was an effort to provide pre- and post-match training and support with some direct supervision of the matched relationship. It was also important for the mentor/mentee interests to be considered during the matching process because shared social activities where critical to building trust.

couch reading sm 300x196 Mentoring RelationshipsEffective mentors should be willing to commit to a long-term relationship and make regular contact with their mentee, as well as participate in ongoing training and communication with program directors. Through an in-depth, nine-month study, Morrows and Style (1995) identified two main types of mentoring relationships and the outcomes they produce. “Developmental” volunteers were adult mentors who held expectations that varied over time in relation to their perception of the needs of the youth. In the beginning, the mentors devoted themselves to establishing a strong connection with the youth. They felt satisfied with their mentee’s progress and with the relationship overall; when doubts arose, they were more likely to consult caseworkers for reassurance or advice. The youth in these relationships reported feeling a considerable sense of support from their adult friend. Further, many of the youth in developmental relationships demonstrated a pattern of seeking help independently and voluntarily divulged difficulties in their school or personal lives, allowing the volunteer to provide guidance and advice.

Prescriptive” volunteers viewed their own goals for the match (usually these are “good” goals, e.g., academic achievement) as primary rather than the youth’s. Some prescriptive volunteers required the youth to take equal responsibility for maintaining the relationship and for providing feedback about its meaning. The prescriptive volunteers ultimately felt frustrated. The youth were similarly frustrated, dissatisfied with the relationship, and far less likely to regard their mentor as a source of consistent support. Often, these prescriptive relationships developed growing tension, which led, at least in part, to their frequent demise. Two-thirds of the prescriptive matches no longer met nine months after the first study interview, whereas only about ten percent of the developmental relationships had ended.

Grossman and Rhodes found that matches involving volunteer married persons 26-30 years old, were 86 percent more likely to terminate their relationship each month compared with matches with 18-25 year old volunteers, and far more likely than non-married 26-30 year olds (who were less likely to terminate relationships compared with 18-25 year old volunteers). At Shelterwood, we have also found that single mentors between the ages of 21 – 27 are incredibly committed to the task of mentoring and are less likely than all other age groups to end their relationship with students. While, society has deemed this age group as selfish and uncommitted, at our Academy we have found our mentors to be incredibly committed and trustworthy. They demonstrate an eagerness to learn and share their lives with younger students. This age group tends to be more open to supervision and training than older volunteers and they have the disposable time necessary to invest deeply into the lives of their mentees.

Good quality mentorship programs like Shelterwood use structure and planning to facilitate high levels of mentor-mentee interaction. In her research, Jekielek has found that those mentors who received more hours of training had longer-lasting matches. At Shelterwood, training and supervision is an ongoing part of our program as we bring teens into relationship with recent college graduates. This type of intensive mentor care has been part of the Shelterwood experience for over thirty-four years and often continues long after our students have graduated from our school. Avenues such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have allowed us to maintain a significant level of investment, even if the distance between the mentor and mentee expands over time.