by Ashley McHaney

For the past 20 months I have served as AmeriCorps VISTA and Mentor Program Coordinator at St. Joseph’s Villa, a nonprofit in Richmond, VA, that for 179 years has exemplified belief in children.  I personally screen each and every individual seeking to participate in the Villa Pals program.  Certain qualities make a person “mentor material” – that is, qualify him or her to serve as an advisor, role model, and friend to a young person here at the Villa.  Some of the characteristics I look for in a mentor are: good listener; positive attitude; respectful; encouraging.  Now, don’t get me wrong, these are essential qualities in a mentor. But I have come to believe that one quality may supersede all these.

Imagine you are an executive of a nonprofit and have learned a donor plans to make a $500,000 gift.  This generosity fills you with gratitude to the donor and anticipation of the good that will result from this gift.  Now, suppose the donor wants to have a one-to-one meeting with you to deliver the check.  After scheduling the meeting with the donor, you announce the wonderful news to your co-workers.  On the day of your meeting, you have carefully prepared your reception and are anxiously awaiting the donor’s arrival.  The appointment time comes and goes: no donor.  After waiting thirty minutes, you go back to your office where an email is waiting that says, “I’m sorry I did not make it to your meeting, but I have decided to retract my donation.”

Now let’s compare this scenario with the following:

Imagine being a youth with a history of disappointment that has made it difficult to trust anyone in your life.  You attend a school that is lucky enough to have a mentoring program, which you have recently enrolled in.  You have been matched with a mentor, who is making a generous donation of time.  This generous act is the source of much excitement and joy for you.  Suppose that the mentor has scheduled his mentoring session with you, and you announce the wonderful news to all of your classmates.  On the day of your mentoring session, you have carefully prepared your schoolwork and are anxiously awaiting your mentor’s arrival.  The time for your mentoring session comes and goes: no mentor.  After waiting thirty minutes, you receive a note that says, “I’m sorry that I did not make it to our mentoring session, but I have decided to not come today because [insert reason or excuse here].”

These scenarios share a plotline and a theme.  Reading them, what words come to mind?  Maybe mistrust and inconsistency.

Mentors need all of the aforementioned characteristics.  However, the main role of a mentor is to NOT abandon and to BE consistent.  Many of the young people we serve at St. Joseph’s Villa have learned to expect disappointment.  It’s crucial that a mentor not reinforce the idea that expecting a promise to be kept is a waste of time.  For my position as Mentor Program Coordinator, the quality of consistency is of utmost importance!