January 13, 2016  /   mentor

Mentoring ‘In Real Life’

A blog post from Spark CEO Jason Cascarino — 
Three Ways to Celebrate Mentoring and Make an Impact in 2016 
For many of us, January symbolizes a fresh start.  It’s about goal setting and looking forward to all of the moments that will make 2016 memorable. Here at Spark, January marks the beginning of the second program session we kick-off each year, pairing students with mentors for 10 weeks of hands-on learning apprenticeships in exciting workplaces. 
It’s fitting then, both personally and professionally, that January is National Mentoring Month.
For Spark staff beginning the second half of our program year, National Mentoring Month is a reminder that our work is part of a larger educational and social movement.  The Mentoring Effect report tells us that one in three young people feel isolated from meaningful connections with adults outside their home.  There’s a clear need for mentoring and Spark is part of the larger network of organizations working to address this national challenge, helping students build the social capital they need to be successful. This program year, Spark is partnering with 30 schools and more than 200 companies and organizations across four major metropolitan regions and engaging more than two thousand volunteer mentors to serve more than 1,000 middle school students, helping them stay engaged, on track and ready for success in high school and beyond.
National Mentoring Month offers simple ways for all of us to make an individual impact in 2016 through mentoring.  I personally hope you take advantage of this opportunity in January to become a volunteer mentor with Spark.  We need more than 1,000 adults to pair one-to-one with students this spring.  But National Mentoring Month is not just about Spark.  It is an opportunity to celebrate and honor the importance of quality mentoring and highlight the impact that mentoring programs like Spark has on adolescents.
In 2015, week-in and week-out I saw the benefits of mentoring unfolding in real life, in offices across the country.  I watched C-level executives block two hours of time each week to share their professional perspective and guide local students.  “Spark makes it so easy,” said Perry Wallack, CFO of Cornerstone OnDemand and a Spark mentor. “Twenty hours is a really small amount of time to play a part in helping a student graduate from high school by motivating them through exposure to world opportunities. We are giving them an essential tool to being successful in life.”
I heard from educators who witness positive growth in their students because of Spark mentors. “We’ve seen their grades improve, we’ve seen them become more outgoing, but the most important part for us is that we are providing our students with the opportunity to engage in learning experiences outside the confines of their own communities,” shared Sean Holiday, Principal of a Spark partner school.
I watched mentors at Deloitte and CEB and Sony PlayStation take time out of their busy workdays to tap into students’ interests and motivations, engage them in exciting projects with real-world applications and to teach them success skills. I saw students create marketing campaigns for their own fashion lines, and detailed plans for new sporting venues, and concepts for new video games. More than this, I saw students with their own desires ignited and caring adults who believed in them.
Throughout January, organizations, policy makers, mentors and mentees will celebrate the powerful impact of quality mentoring programs across the country. I encourage you to add your voice to the celebration by supporting the mentoring efforts and the volunteer mentors in your community.
Here are three ways you can make 2016 better for a young person and for yourself!
  1. Volunteer with Spark and dedicate two hours/week for 10 weeks to a local 7th or 8th grader
  2. Share your mentoring story on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #MentorIRL (Mentor In Real Life)
  3. Invest in mentoring with a donation to Spark


Thank you for bringing mentoring to life.

PS: Tremendous thanks to our friends at
MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health for making National Mentoring Month a priority since 2002!

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