Mentor information for "Coming of Age "
This information was distributed to all adults who agreed to be mentors in a Coming of Age program at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva in 2004-2005. In Unitarian Universalist congregations, a "Coming of Age" program is generally a program for young people in early adolescence, to help welcome them into the adult religious community.
This information manual should be entirely self-explanatory. It is offered here merely as an example, not as a template, and I would expect that each congregation would develop a similar manual that is specific to the needs of the specific congregation.
What mentors do
Mentors are adults who work with young people in the Challenge Program, UUSG's version of a "coming of age" program.
The focus of your mentoring relationship will be to help your mentee write his/her "credo." A credo is a statement of who the mentee is as a religious person. We expect that you will meet face-to-face at least once a month, with possible additional contact via phone, mail, or email (see below). Your help to your mentee may include some or all of the following:
- providing a willing ear to listen as youth try out ideas
- helping mentees find resources relating to Unitarian Universalist belief
- sharing a little of who you are as a religious person, and a little of your religious journey
- reading over drafts of the credo
How to meet with your mentee
We have chosen not to use the traditional mentoring model where a youth and an adult meet one-on-one for an extended period of time. Where the traditional mentoring model is used (for example, in the Big Brother/ Big Sister programs), prospective mentors must undergo an hours-long interview with a staff person as well as a full criminal background check by a private investigative agency. These measures are necessary because of the potential legal liability for such programs. UUSG simply does not have the budget to carry out this kind of background check! Because of this, one-on-one meetings between mentors and their menteees should not take place, both for the safety of the youth, and to protect mentors from possible legal action.
That's why we have decided to use a different mentoring model, a short-term (four month), focussed activity mentoring model, which should be easier on mentors, not expose UUSG to serious legal liability, and still provide a high degree of satisfaction to both mentors and mentees. Research by Search Institute, a non-profit organization that carries out sociological research of religious institutions, shows that a short-term, focussed activity mentoring program provides nearly as much satisfaction to both mentors and mentees as does a long-term or open-ended, unstructured traditional mentoring program.
In general, you should plan to meet with your mentee at church (of course, never behind closed doors but always in a public room), or in a public place such as Starbucks or the library. Some mentors prefer to pair up with another mentor/mentee team, and arrange meetings of all four. Telephone contact is possible, but can be difficult to scehdule. You can also contact your mentee via email, but we strongly recommend that you obtain your mentee's email address from his/her parents.
Some objectives and goals
Specific objectives for mentors
(1) To assist mentees as mentees write their Credos. A credo can be defined as a basic statement of who you are as a religious person, or a statement of religious identity. Most young people choose to write a credo statement, and a good length for a written credo statement is about 500 to 750 words (less is fine). Some young people may choose to present their credo as a work of art, an interpretive dance, and song they ahve written, etc.
(2) To help mentees in the planning of the Challengeres worship services, in which mentees will present their Credos to the congregation. Mentors provide logistical support and give feedback to help mentees to create an excellent worship service. The worship services will be on the weekend of May 15-16, 2005.
(3) To participate in the spring retreat if at all possible. The spring retreat will a time for mentees plan their worship service.
(4) To have fun!
Specific objectives for mentees (to do with mentors)
(1) To write a personal credo statement.
(2) To do planning for the Challenge worship service.
(3) To have fun!
Overall goals for the congregation
(1) To support youth in the Challenge program through maintaining a church community that welcomes and supports youth, and indeed people of all ages. To give moral and tangible support to the adult leaders of the Challenge program, and to the Challenge mentors.
(2) To see youth in the program as "coming of age" and to understand that upon completion of the program, youth can be treated as religious and spiritual equals, deserving of full participation in and acceptance by the UUSG faith community. In short, to learn to treat the youth in the Challenge program as full and equal partners in congregational life.
(3) To get to know the youth in the Challenge program (at least by attending the culminating worship service).
(4) To support the youth so that they are able to make a rational decision as to whether or not they are ready to sign the membership book of UUSG.
(5) To have fun!
Taking care of yourself
Adults who work with youth need to remember to take care of themselves. We are role models to the youth we work with, and one of the best things we can do is show them that living your faith is a matter of joy, not of drudgery and burden. If mentoring becomes exhausting or burdensome, ask for help and support!
You can always ask me for help and support -- call any time (church phone is 630-232-2350, home phone is 630-232-9609). You are also welcome to call the other ministers, Lindsay or Craig. Additionally, it can help to get to know your fellow mentors -- you can turn to them for help and support, too. If you ever have an intense meeting with your mentee, you may need to talk -- grab me or a fellow mentor and talk!
Conversations with successful mentors reveal that they start out with limited expectations of what they are able to accomplish, and that most rewarding part of being a mentor was simply working on the credo with their mentees. We have Unitarian Universalists tend to have high expectations of ourselves and of each other, and sometimes our expectations are too high. So try to focus on the limited objectives listed above, to help limit your expectations.
Mentoring is generally an enjoyable process. With support from me, from the other ministers, from your fellow mentors, you should be able to get through any rough spots that may come up.
About child/youth protection
The role of adults leaders
Adults working with children and youth in the context of our Unitarian Universalist faith have a crucial role and a privileged one, one which may carry with it a great deal of power and influence. Whether acting as youth advisor, chaperone, child-care worker, teacher, minister, registrant at a youth-adult conference, or in any other role, the adult has a special opportunity to interact with our young people in ways which are affirming and inspiring to the young people and to the adult. Adults can be mentors to, role models for, and trusted friends of children and youth. They can be teachers, counselors, and ministers. Helping our children grow up to be caring and responsible adults can be a meaningful and joyful experience for the adult and a lifetime benefit to the young person.
While it is important that adults be capable of maintaining meaningful friendships with the young people they work with, adults must exercise good judgment and mature wisdom in using their influence with children and youth. They must especially refrain from using young people to fulfill their own needs. Young people are in a vulnerable position when dealing with adults and may find it difficult to speak out about inappropriate behavior by adults.
Adult leaders need to possess a special dedication to working with our young people in ways which affirm the UUA principles. Good communication skills, self awareness and understanding of others, sensitivity, problem-solving and decision-making skills, and a positive attitude are all important attributes. Additionally, adult leaders should 1) have a social network outside of their religious education responsibility in which to meet their own needs for friendship, affirmation, and self-esteem, and 2) be willing and able to seek assistance from colleagues and religious professionals when they become aware of a situation requiring expert help or intervention.
It is ultimately the responsibility of the entire congregation, not just those in leadership positions, to create and maintain a climate which supports the growth and welfare of children and youth.
Code of Ethics
Adults who are in leadership roles are in positions of stewardship and play a key role in fostering the spiritual development of both individuals and the community. It is, therefore, especially important that those in leadership positions be well qualified to provide the special nurture, care, and support that will enable children and youth to develop a positive sense of self and a spirit of independence and responsibility. The relationship between young people and their leaders must be one of mutual respect if the positive potential of their connection is to be realized.
There are no more important areas of growth than those of self-worth and the development of a healthy identity as a sexual being. Adults play a key role in assisting children and youth in these areas of growth. Wisdom dictates that children, youth, and adults suffer damaging effects when leaders become sexually involved with young persons in their care; therefore, leaders will refrain from engaging in sexual, seductive, or erotic behavior with children and youth. Neither shall they sexually harass or engage in behavior with children or youth which constitutes verbal, emotional, or physical abuse.
Leaders shall be informed of the Code of Ethics and agree to it before assuming their role. In cases of violation of this Code, appropriate action will be taken.
Code of Ethics adapted from materials published by the UUA, 1986, 1992