On Becoming a Mentor

Tom Rosenberg, President/CEO
May 2017

Back in the early ’70s, my favorite counselor’s name was Billy, but everyone called him “Banjo Billy” because he was an accomplished singer/songwriter. He was caring, funny, adventurous, fair, and inspiring. For my 10- and 11-year-old cabinmates and me, he could do little wrong — he was a paragon of a nonparent, adult mentor. Billy taught us how to get along, love one another, and be respectful of everyone in our camp community in spite of our differences. Today he is Bill, a former rabbi and a distinguished attorney who attended Yale and then Harvard Law School. I recall Billy honing his mediation skills on us at camp, and remembering it makes me smile. These days, he is a well-respected mediator who also continues to invest time in teaching and mentoring teens at local educational institutions. We both live in Atlanta and reconnect all too infrequently at community events, but every time we do, Billy still inspires me.

I am fortunate to have had many wonderful role models in my life: camp counselors, scout leaders, professors, and employers. Billy stands out because he was one of my earliest mentors when I was quite young and pretty impressionable. He was irresistible — easy to like and trust. Like him, your work as a cabin or activity counselor and mentor at camp this summer is critical and valuable to society and to you.

Youth development experts agree that “structured and naturally occurring mentoring relationships have powerful effects which provide young people with positive and complementary benefits in a variety of personal, academic, and professional factors” (Bruce & Bridgeland, 2014). Yet there continues to be a mentoring gap in America — “more than one in three young people reach the age of 19 never having had an adult mentor while they were growing up” (Bruce & Bridgeland, 2014). Recent research indicates that despite efforts to create more formal opportunities for mentorship in school and after school, the number of formal volunteer adult mentors has remained steady at just 1 percent of the adult population over the past decade (Rhodes & Raposa, 2017). Strong intergenerational relationships are an essential ingredient of successful residential and day camp experiences.

How can you be a successful mentor to your campers? Show them how to have fun and be fun. Help your campers learn to relax, be social, and be more mindful. Be caring, supportive, and a great listener. Inspire your campers to push their comfort zones and set greater expectations for themselves than they would have otherwise. Reinforce their self-esteem by helping them practice good decision-making. Guide them to realize that they do have the insights to make smart, informed decisions. Teach them to embrace learning from mistakes and to celebrate success. Share your insights where appropriate and model a healthy willingness to challenge commonly accepted ideas.

Thank you for all of the hard work, leadership, and passion you will invest in your campers this summer!



Bruce, M. & Bridgeland, J. (2014, January). The mentoring effect: Young people’s perspectives on the outcomes and availability of mentoring. Civic Enterprises. Retrieved from civicenterprises.net/MediaLibrary/Docs/MENTOR.pdf

Rhodes, J. & Raposa, E. (2017, January 23). Mentoring by the numbers: Some surprising trends in volunteer efforts. The Chronicle of Evidence-based Mentoring. Retrieved from http://chronicle.umbmentoring.org/mentoring-numbers-surprisingtrends-vol...