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June 10, 2020

Virtual Mentoring Can Be Challenging, But We Are Making It Work During COVID-19

By Nolan Benson, Friend

Our current health crisis has changed the way I’m able to serve youth, but it hasn’t halted it. James* is a funny, thoughtful second grader who I’ve been able to video chat with twice a week for two hours each time. We’ve been able to strengthen our connection even further by exchanging jokes and drawing together. He’s been able to get to know my wife, who is a professional artist. Lately, we’ve been watching how-to-draw videos while we talk. He really wants to work on his goal to work on his drawing skills, and virtual service has been the perfect time to do so.

It takes a village to raise a child. As mentors, we get to be a part of our youths’ villages. We are able to provide firsthand accounts of their incredible journeys as they accomplish goals, work on core assets, and grow as individuals. I’ve only been a mentor for about six months, and in that time, James* and I have built quite a special relationship.

James reminds me a lot of myself at his age. Shy, intelligent, creative and budding with confidence. I say budding confidence because he has struggled with self-esteem at times, but he’s been working diligently to flip his negative self-talk into positivity. During our outings, we don’t say we’re not good at things or that we can’t do things. If I hear him say something like that, we apply a growth mindset and instead use phrases like, “We need to practice if we want to get better, and “If we put in the time and effort, we will get better. We’ve applied this to sports, particularly with soccer as that is one of his sparks, to draw, another one of his sparks and to school subjects like reading and math.

He also embodies perseverance. He used to say he couldn’t do things when they were challenging or when he made a mistake. So, I stressed my favorite core asset, perseverance. We’ve both agreed to keep trying even when things are difficult. Both growth mindset and perseverance work hand and hand. When I met James, he didn’t remember either of those core assets. Now, he can tell what each of them means, even occasionally calling them out without any prompting.

James has been through a lot, and he is overcoming his challenges. His growth may not be immediately visible each time we see each other, but looking back to when we first met, he has made tremendous strides in his academics, in his social and emotional abilities, and in his comfortability with himself. I see his resilience often, and when I do, pride washes over me. In my limited time with him each week, we share jokes and laugh together, cook together, play sports and sometimes play video games. He loves it when I bring my Nintendo Switch with me. It takes a village to raise a child. I am but one small house among his family, friends, coaches and teachers in his thriving village.

*Youth's name changed to protect their identity