Tag: mentorship

Who Changed You?

March 30th, 2010

Susan was a junior at Knoxville High School. She was obese. She abused a variety of drugs. Her grades were terrible. She didn’t take good care of herself. One day the basketball coach invited her to film each of the varsity team’s games. Susan accepted his invitation. That season, whether they were playing at home or traveling to other schools, Susan was part of the team. The coach soon noticed a transformation in Susan’s character and behavior. She lost weight, raised her grade point average, started taking care of her physical appearance, and stopped using drugs.

While I can’t know all the factors playing into Susan’s transformation, what I suspect did not change her were the usual methods we employ to improve adolescent health: curricula, demonstrations, lectures, interventions and such. The coach handed Susan so much more than a camera, and so much less than a battery of prevention techniques. He saw, appreciated, honored, and trusted her.

Why do human relationships change us? How do relationships change us? Imagine knowing someone well—a former coach, a classmate, a teacher, a neighbor. We can’t prevent ourselves from being impacted by this person any more than we can keep from making our own impact on him or her. It’s the nature of human interactions. We are changed and go about changing others through some means of connection we’ve formed with the people in our lives.

I encourage you to ask yourself a question at the deepest level possible: Who made the greatest positive difference in my life as an adolescent? You may remember a coach who believed in you, a parent who, despite your highs and lows, stood by your side, or a teacher who inspired you to be more than you thought possible. Who was this person? What about her changed your life? What would you say to this person now? If you could thank her, what would you thank her for?

You may be one, and you aren’t alone, who didn’t have anyone there to support you during this critical time in your life. You may have always craved the consistent presence of a compassionate adult who was there to cheer you on. Describe that person. How would you want that person to support and encourage you? What things would he have done to impress upon you his firm belief in you? Write these things down. Make your description as specific as possible.

This exercise leads us to a second question: How can you be this person you just described to the teens in your life? I will venture a guess that the person or people who influenced you did not do so by virtue of what they said. Sure, you may recall some profound comments. But what made the words profound was the quality of the person who said them to you. They were profound because they were spoken in the context of a relationship. The trusted connection between you is what unalterably affected you for life.

    Jamie Oliver: Mentor Extraordinaire

    January 5th, 2010

    Jamie Oliver caught my attention last month when he received the prestigious TED Prize for his work to “create change on both the individual and governmental level.” I had been aware of his work to encourage people in England to make healthier choices in their lifestyle and diet. Many of you are probably aware of Oliver’s efforts to ban unhealthy food in England’s schools in favor of a diet based on fresh, nutritious fare.

    Fewer people may be familiar with Fifteen Foundation, which Oliver started in 2002. Each year his foundation trains teens in the restaurant business. Most significant to me is that these teens often have criminal records, a history of drug use, and other high-risk behavior. At first glance these youth don’t necessarily commend themselves to the culinary arts. What’s clear is that Fifteen Foundation is the vehicle for human enrichment. While Fifteen’s cadets become exceptional chefs, more importantly the Foundation encourages youth to develop character, self-respect, and ambition.

    Trusting relationships between mentors and young people are at the heart of this remarkable enterprise. The training process utilizes an apprenticeship model in which the master chef shadows the apprentice. Mentor-chefs introduce youth to food, farming, and cooking. Throughout the apprenticeship they also help the youth with a range of personal challenges.

    None of this good work would be possible without a funadamental shift in perspective on the part of Oliver and his staff. Most of the world sees these youth as destined to a life of crime, drug use, and dependency on government resources. Fifteen Foundation views youth through a different lens–seeing beyond the exterior and behavior, the coarseness and tattoos, to unique humans endowed with brilliance, gifts, and promise.

    Eating good food is not only healthy, it can also be beautiful. Oliver, through the vehicle of food, is introducing youth to a higher plane of living. I hope he inspires you as he has me, and that we all can find ways to emulate his quality of mentorship in our own relationships.