When people think about the start of winter, and January in particular, they often think about new beginnings, cold weather, and warm soup. Another important marker is that it’s a time when we celebrate the important work of mentors. Since 2002, January has been recognized as National Mentoring Month. Voices for National Service uses this opportunity to recognize and thank the AmeriCorps members, volunteers, leaders, and more who support the academic and socio-emotional development of youth and young adults through mentoring.
Mentors for young people are more crucial than ever due to the pandemic’s effect on student academic achievement and social progress. In a National Mentoring Month proclamation, President Biden declared that mentors can help students “navigate… complexities, open up doors of opportunity, and give them the additional support they may need to excel in school and in their communities.” As Representative Don Bacon (R-NE), a member of the Congressional Youth Mentoring Caucus, shared, “Now is a critical moment for our nation’s young people and their educational development and growth… Now more than ever, kids need a trusted adult in their life to help them navigate today’s challenges.”
More than 51,000 AmeriCorps members and AmeriCorps Seniors step up each year to serve as mentors and tutors, supporting students in the classroom and beyond. To celebrate the value of these mentors, we collected stories of mentorship from Voices for National Service coalition members. These stories have been shared across social media, and compiled here. Thank you again to the thousands of hardworking mentors who help young people unleash their full potential!
AmeriCorps Seniors Professional Network
Queen Williams found her AmeriCorps Seniors Foster Grandparent program through the Council on Aging of West Florida, a member of the AmeriCorps Seniors Professional Network. She supports a classroom teacher at a preschool and is motivated by the knowledge that “lessons learned at an early age can follow you a lifetime.” Miss Queen tries to make sure every day is a good day for “her threes,” saying, “I would like for them to go home and say… ‘Miss Queen got me through the day with things that I couldn’t do, Miss Queen was there to help me out.’”
City Year Denver AmeriCorps member Hannah Platt continued mentoring the students she worked with after the school year was over by writing letters at the end of the year. She outlined the amazing things that she saw in them and the successes she wanted them to remember from the year. When she returned to the same elementary school for a second year of AmeriCorps service, she found that several students saved the letters to read when they needed a pick-me-up or some extra inspiration on a difficult day.
The Intergenerational Vaccine Corps, created by CoGenerate, AmeriCorps Seniors, and California Volunteers, brings together retired medical professionals and volunteers of all ages to boost COVID-19 vaccination rates in low-income communities around San Francisco. The program has the added benefit of corps members building relationships with one another across generations, with the volunteers sharing career advice, tips, and inspiration. Dr. Rima Goldman and other corps members wrote about their experience, sharing, “I often have someone working with me that is… in nursing school or trying to finish college requirements. When there’s down time, I’ll ask them what their aspirations are, and they ask me why I chose to become a doctor. We have great conversations and they inspire me as I try to mentor and encourage them.”
FoodCorps AmeriCorps members like Kevion Young play an essential role as mentors while partnering with schools and communities to provide kids with nourishing meals and food education. FoodCorps prioritizes “culturally affirming experiences with food that celebrate and nurture the whole child.” By supporting and connecting youth with their culture through foods, Kevion notes that he is “being for [his] students who [he] needed when [he] was a kid.”
Minnesota Alliance With Youth
Minnesota Alliance With Youth AmeriCorps members play a variety of roles to support young people on their path to high school graduation success. Ainsley, an AmeriCorps Youth Support Fellow at Learning Works, built a connection with one of her students by opening up about her own experience of applying to and attending college. At first, the student was unsure if he wanted to attend college, but through their conversations he began to share his hopes for his educational and professional future.
Coach ShaDe’, a Playworks AmeriCorps member in New Jersey, started a volleyball league at the school she served. She invited an 8th grader, Jada, to join the team, in hopes that it would help the quiet student build stronger friendships. ShaDe’ shared that, “After a few weeks, Jada discovered she not only loved playing the game, but also enjoyed being a part of a team. Her classmates saw her smile and watched her confidence increase, and her positive energy lifted up everyone around her.” ShaDe’ continued to encourage Jada to become more involved, and recommended that she apply to a high school with a strong academic and volleyball program, where Jada is now thriving.
Reading Partners supports under-resourced schools by working one-on-one with students who struggle with reading, helping to build their confidence and literacy skills. Malika Christopher, a former AmeriCorps VISTA member with Reading Partners, had the opportunity to return to her home neighborhood of South Jamaica in Queens. She wrote about the significance of mentoring youth in her neighborhood, particularly to inspire them to enjoy reading, a passion she says was passed on to her by her own mentors. “I love this work because I am positioned to encourage youth, improve their self-confidence, and push them to follow their dreams.”
Malaka Gage, an AmeriCorps member with Saga Education in Chicago, returned for three terms of tutoring because of the connections she formed with the students she served. Malaka started tutoring during the COVID-19 pandemic, which inspired her to focus on building lasting relationships with the students, due to knowing “what students have had to deal with and how adaptable they are to the constant changes of the world.” After a year of tutoring remotely, being able to serve in-person with students strengthened Malaka’s enthusiasm for tutoring and the ability to build connections to support students in learning.