Professional Development

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The Value of Mentoring for Early Career Professionals and Beyond

Frontline staff have always been the life essence in the HEART of afterschool.

Our field has never had a problem in attracting brilliant and gifted talent to our field. Every year, hundreds of college students flood our doors to work in camps and afterschool programs, yet many of them don't stay on as career professionals within our workforce.

What would happen if leaders took time to cultivate meaningful mentoring relationships with their brightest stars?

Much of what we do is relational. A mentor serves as an advisor.

"Having an advisor means that an assignment is able to receive the benefit of someone's experiences, education, and exposure without paying the price the advisor had to pay to get it ... they get the perspective without the problems." (Daniels, 2020)

As an early professional, I craved more responsibility and had an ambitious spirit. In my first managerial role, I worked at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Mercer County. The Chief Executive Officer, Dave Anderson, truly believed in strengthening his team. Dave had no problem showing us how budgets worked, how to read a P&L statement and make projections for the upcoming fiscal year. Dave involved us in strategic planning and fundraising. Although I've moved on, I keep in contact with my mentor, Reggie Coleman, Executive Director at BGC Mercer.

What I learned under their leadership was invaluable and instrumental to the Director and Supervisor that I became.

Now, as a leader, it is my obligation to share the knowledge that was shared with me. As the Director of Expanded Learning Opportunities at NJSACC, I get the opportunity to impact Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Center grantees across New Jersey. Being a leader doesn't mean that I no longer need a mentor, it means that I require a new level of mentorship.

As we continue to grow as leaders, it is important that we connect with experts and national leaders in the field to mentor us. Thankfully, NJSACC's Executive Director, Diane Genco, is an international trainer and expert in our field. Having her as a mentor and a supervisor challenges me daily to stay abreast of current trends and to create opportunities for the workforce.

Great mentoring does not just happen. It takes skill and effort, from both the mentor and the mentee.

A good mentor...

  • Is a role model. They won't ask you to do something they haven't done, aren't doing or aren't willing to try.
  • Pushes you to be your best self. They don't accept mediocre when they know you can do better.
  • Prioritizes your personal and professional development. They are willing to share their wisdom with you. They encourage you to continue pursuing knowledge through conferences, higher education or other professional development.

A good mentee...

  • Learns from others; is observant, takes notes and asks questions.
  • Is coachable, willing to accept constructive criticism and reflective of their own improvement process.
  • Is on a constant journey of improvement. They seek out opportunities for growth and are willing to take on additional responsibilities.

Reference: Daniels, Dr. Dharius. (2020). Relational Intelligence: The people skills you need for the life you want. Zondervan.

Written by Tyneisha K. Gibbs, Director of Expanded Learning Opportunities, NJSACC: The Statewide Network for New Jersey's Afterschool Communities, White-Riley-Peterson Policy Fellow, NAA Executive member.

Mentoring as Reinvesting

Mentors were critical to my early professional career and in my role as a leader today.

Mentors provided guidance, emotional sustenance, challenge, validation and belief in my potential, especially when I had none. I worked in an afterschool program in Oakland, California, Chinatown for nine years. It was grueling, working up the ranks from volunteer to site coordinator.

The leadership skills I had were built on instinct rather than formal training.

Amongst navigating relationships with in-school partners, putting out program "fires," training and coaching my team, stretching budgets, orchestrating community events, and everything else, there was little time—or money—to invest in my leadership development.

I drew strength from mentoring relationships I had with my peers, my programs' director and a handful of program parents. They invested in me so I could be a stronger leader, voice, and advocate, and in turn support others.

Today, I work at a foundation that invests in systems of support for youth development professionals, including mentoring and learning communities for leaders of color. I am reinvesting my mentors' efforts and honored to work with organizations that believe in and evolve best-in-class mentoring and coaching for youth and leaders.

Alexis Llamas works on the Character Initiative team at the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, NAA Executive member.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of AfterSchool Today.