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For MLK Day, Here's How to Start Mentoring a Young Person

The Generation to Generation campaign makes it easy

By Richard Eisenberg

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'” So, with the national Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service coming up Monday, Jan. 16, I have a suggestion for Americans 50 and older: Make that the day you start mentoring a child.

Credit: Getty Images

“One in three young people will grow up without a mentor in their lives,” says Eunice Lin Nichols, director of’s new Generation to Generation campaign, where adults over 50 volunteer and work with needy children. The Generation to Generation campaign’s overall goal: mobilizing 1 million older adults to help children and youth thrive over the next five years.

Mentoring: A Mushrooming Trend

Mentoring is Generation to Generation’s theme through February, through’s key partners: MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Strive for College. It’s also a mushrooming national trend among older Americans, according to Next Avenue blogger Chris Farrell.

David Shapiro, CEO of MENTOR, thinks adults over 50 are ideal mentors. “They are relationship experts, based on their life experience, and have the wisdom of perspective,” says Shapiro. “I think they also understand what it’s like to walk alongside others as an empowering and supportive force, since they have often played this coaching, managing, mentoring role in life — personally and professionally.”

By’s estimates, there are 9 million kids in America without mentors. But the at-risk youth who do have mentors benefit in countless ways. According to MENTOR, 46 percent are less likely than their peers to start using drugs, 52 percent of them are less likely than their peers to skip a day of school and 55 percent are more likely to be enrolled in college.

How to Become a Mentor on MLK Day

Here’s an easy way to become a mentor on MLK Day: Use MENTOR’s Mentoring Connector online tool through the Generation to Generation site.

You just go to the Generation to Generation site and take the pledge to show your support for the initiative (3,500 already have) and then plug into the Mentoring Connector your preferred geographic area; the age of youth you’d like to mentor; whether there’s a type of child you want to assist (such as academically at-risk or low income or LGBTQ) and the type of mentoring you want to do (such as one-to-one or e-mentoring). After that, you’ll quickly see a variety of opportunities and you can then contact a program to begin the path to mentorland.


Among the qualities that make for a good mentor: respect for young people, great listening skills and empathy.

“The Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service is a great way to see what it’s like to mentor without making a huge commitment,” says Nichols. “Once you’re part of the Day of Service, you may be inspired to make a longer-term investment.”

Making the Commitment

How long? Says Shapiro (who has mentored one local 18-year-old boy for seven years): “There are many different models. If had to find a common strand, it might be two to four hours a month for a school year.”

Shapiro adds that mentoring programs can help manage the logistics of your match, including dealing with times when you’re out-of-pocket. “Do not disqualify yourself before exploring mentoring because you are worried about upholding a commitment. That is one way some of the best potential mentors self-select out, and we need you.”

Next Avenue Influencer in Aging Jim Emerman, executive vice president at and a tutor, wrote on Next Avenue that giving every older adult the opportunity to mentor an at-risk young person is the one thing he’d choose to change about aging in America.

Oh, and if you’re already a mentor, spread the word today. MENTOR has proclaimed Jan. 12 "I am a Mentor Day" — a day for volunteer mentors to “celebrate their role and reflect on the ways mentees have enhanced their world” (hashtag: #mentorIRL).

Photograph of Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the former Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and former Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of "How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis" and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Read More
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