Mentoring is natural and can change a life

Mentoring is natural.

I’d like to begin this article with a story that Ms. Alice Nishihira, a reader of last week’s column, sent to me:

“Thank you for your article on mentors. I hope it stirs up/encourages people to volunteer in this vital need.

“When my youngest daughter worked at the Family Court one summer, she was shocked that many adults could not read and shared this concern to me. I made up my mind then that I could ‘mentor’ someone to achieve a goal. As soon as I retired from my county job, I went to the Adult Education Office and signed up to be a volunteer tutor.

“I’m not a teacher, but I wanted to help someone learn to read or to obtain their GED. I was regularly assigned ‘students.’ I was told one student took the exam three times and failed, and that it would be a miracle if she passes. With my ‘tutoring’ she passed and got her GED.

“Today, at age 86, I feel that that was one of the best things I ever did in my retirement years.”

You have probably mentored all your life, although mentoring might be too fuddy duddy a word for it. How about thinking about helping someone out with something that know that they don’t. Here are four points to consider about it.

1. “Mentoring is natural. Older children naturally help younger ones.”

Go to a playground, or school, or places where kids hang out. You’ll see it happening all the time. In my Montessori training, I learned that younger children really pay attention to kids a couple of years older than they are to learn more about how to be a human. They will watch specific things that they want to learn. Be aware. By high school age, teens begin to watch the older kids and adults who are expressing more of what they want to be in life.

2. “Role modeling is an important part of mentoring, so how we live shows others how to live.”

This is what Mahatma Gandhi was referring to when he suggested that we “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” A new student or person at a workplace watches to see what other people are doing. A mentor can help him speed up that process, because some things the cultures of a place do are subtle.

3. “Knowledge can be found on the Internet.”

“Wisdom comes from experience with at knowledge and is priceless.” Learning how to borrow, or regroup in math is a sophisticated process for a young mind. A volunteer “helper” in a classroom can help a child who is having difficulty learning it by using concrete objects to help build the abstract concept.

I checked and found that there were many different websites that offered lessons, but they vary in how helpful they are. It’s still not the same as having a helper there seeing where the thinking is going as the child solves the problem, then reinforcing it or correcting it on the spot, and then repeating the operation a few times with different numbers until the skill seems mastered.

4. “The goodness that comes from one’s mentoring affects the world over time and cannot be measured.”

Makani Sabala-Bactad is a senior at Kauai High School. He is part of a newly formed peer mediation group there. He was walking at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. event, and spoke with his co-mediators to the assembly inside. TGI news quoted him as saying, “We basically help out at our school and help other students who have problems. We try to bring them together to help solve issues.” Let’s imagine how this plays out over time. He has already had a successful mediation. That helped the disputants know that they can get their needs met by talking them out, which they might try to do again. They might suggest mediation to help one of their friends who was so angry about something that he wanted to hurt someone, that could lead to a detainment by KPD, and a lot of even more stress to deal with, if not a record. He tries it, finds a new way to deal with his problem, and spreads the word.

The team learns more and more about peoples’ needs and feelings and become valued wherever they go for their fairness, kindness and integrity. They become leaders who know from experience that we can always go for the win-win, and try to get everyone’s needs met as much as possible.

If there is something that you do well, that you think others might benefit from, you might want to share it. It will make your gift greater in the world. Honestly, it can be in all kinds of areas. A dear couple have helped seniors do their taxes for years. People who love the beach go to Lydgate Park, and probably other beaches to rake and clean it up every Saturday morning. Gardeners volunteer to garden.

Low-income elders can sign up to be foster grandparents in the schools and receive some funds, meal allowance and more. Call 832-5169. Go to the Hawaii DOE website and look up volunteering. Informally, students sometimes can read for students in the lower grades.

A grandma friend of mine just loves to hold babies, and volunteered to do so at the hospital. Love cars? Teach someone how to change a tire, or remove scratches. Do you sew well and want to share it? Help out with costumes for a local theater. Teach your friends a special food that you prepare, and take turns going to each others’ houses to eat what you each prepare.

Want more adventure? Look into the Surfrider Foundation. More quiet? Try reading for kids at your local library. Love the arts? Try the Garden Island Arts Council. Know you can grow plants, but want to learn more about sustainability as you teach folks to plant? Check out Apollo Kauai. Are you financially literate but want more connection with people? Look into Hawaiian Community Assets.

You get the idea. You can get some more by perusing The Kauai Planning & Action Alliance’s comprehensive online Directory of Community Organizations at

Some places that deal with people will require that you get a TB test, such as the DOE, Hospice, and Child Services organizations. Some require minimal training. As a volunteer in the Hospice transition choir, I had to attend a four-hour training on patients’ rights, confidentiality, etc.

The thing about being a volunteer mentor or even a volunteer is that you learn a lot just by showing up at certain times, learning how to follow the “boss’” guidance, and deal with fellow workers. Then when you want a job, and you find that pesky “previous work experience” line, you can write in where you volunteered, what you did and who your supervisor was.

A mentor learns all the time from his/her mentees, or the situation that he/she is in. It’s usually fun because you’re doing what you like, or are good at. And if it isn’t, graciously bow out. No blaming. No fireworks. It just didn’t work for you. Try again some other time and place. People change jobs, and that boss might one day be a future boss or married to your cousin.

Mentoring is natural. You might remember that as you help your younger friends button a button or comb their hair …


Hale `Opio Kaua’i convened a support group of adults in our Kaua’i community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at For more information about Hale ‘Opio Kaua’i, please go to


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