Mentoring: Why showing up matters

By Charles Peterson, Corporate Responsibility Officer, KeyBank

For three years, I mentored a middle schooler. When I began volunteering, I really didn’t know what to expect, but after watching my mentee grow from a shy sixth grader to a confident eighth grade student ready for high school, I realized how our unique relationship enriched both of our lives.

We met at his school once a week for three years and developed a bond that I hope will continue through his high school years and beyond. While we started as relative strangers, we now are two people who know and care for each other.

To a lot of kids in our community, having another person they can rely on, someone that shows up for them once a week, makes a difference. By not being a teacher, a parent or grandparent, or a sibling or peer, I was someone different in his life. And he was a young teen starting middle school, trying to find his place in a new world. We could laugh and talk about our lives and share different perspectives. We learned about each other through our weekly experiences and developed a strong connection despite our differences.

When I began I was concerned that demands on my time, and my distance from the parent-of-an-adolescent experience, would be a challenge. Instead, I looked forward to our weekly time together. Sixth grade through eighth grade is a time when a person begins the transition from child to adult, and I was fortunate to see many positive changes in my friend.

Here are the top five ways I’ve found that a mentor can make a real impact on a student’s life.

  1. Building character: The one-on-one relationship with a person who is part friend, part role model, helps students see situations from a different perspective and learn from someone who is outside their day-to-day lives. It’s simple, everyday conversations between a mentee and mentor that can build character by helping them understand different situations and outlooks.
  1. Building confidence: When a child has someone to rely on, someone who can build them up and show them the possibilities of their future, that builds confidence – in themselves and in other people. By opening kids up to understanding the many career opportunities and bright paths forward, mentors can help students see these things as possibilities for their future.
  1. Building on academics: During a one-hour session, mentors can help mentees with questions they might have about their homework or schooling. By working with a student on educational activities and encouraging bright futures and a college education, mentoring can help to encourage good grades in a fun, light-hearted way.
  1. Building attendance: Attendance is so important for students in middle school. Missing just one day can really set a kid behind. Knowing their mentor is coming in for them that week can give a student something to look forward to and encourage them to show up.
  1. Building positive relationships: Ultimately, relationships and positive role models matter. For a kid, having someone to support them once a week and let them know there is someone out there who cares about their well-being can help a student see the importance of positive relationships and friendships.

It is impossible to predict how, by being a unique part of a child’s support system, you can make a difference in a life. But in just one hour, you can impact that child’s entire week. And for one hour once a week, you can impact that child’s entire life.

To become a mentor with United Way’s Be a Middle School Mentor program, visit