Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mentors and Guidance

This past weekend, I went to a training session for the organization I've just signed up to volunteer for, Girls Write Now (GWN), based in New York City. It's a fantastic organization, with some amazingly talented, dedicated women (and one man) on board. Their mission is to mentor teen girls in writing -- journalism, poetry, playwriting, fiction, diaries, whatever -- through a unique model of recruiting women writers to mentor and guide these young women in their chosen genres.

The training was fabulous. We were a roomful of women writers, all dynamic, powerful energies, just buzzing with the excitement of being part of something so meaningful and important to us.

It got me thinking a lot about how important mentoring (or the lack of it) is in the lives of young people. When I was a teen, my parents were too busy surviving to really have the energy to mentor and guide us. By the time they got home from their jobs, the exhaustion set in and they were simply glad that we all had made it through another day.

So I got my mentoring through books, and teachers and school counselors. I was a voracious reader, in part, because I was desperate for guidance and information. Books allowed me to learn about the world when my parents were too tired to teach. And when I couldn't get what I needed through books, I went to my teachers or to the school guidance counselor. I was lucky in that I found some beautiful souls through reaching out like that. I found mother-figures and father-figures to supplement what my parents were doing, and to round out my experience.

But when I think back to that time, I realize just how vulnerable I was. I very much needed a guiding hand, and I was wide open when I went searching for it. This could have (and does) put any teen in a position where s/he could easily be taken advantage of and/or exploited. It's also the reason that teachers, librarians, school counselors, and other adults who work with young people, are so incredibly vital to the shaping of our future leaders and world community.

I remember every single one of the teachers who helped guide my feet on the right path. I remember the librarians who handed me books that opened new worlds to my imagination. I'm thrilled to be part of the group of mentors at Girls Write Now, and hope that the organization can one day spread its model to other cities and towns. But in the meantime, I know there are many, many teachers, counselors, librarians, and other caring adults who do this work each and every day. And I, for one, am supremely grateful.

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