MENTOR is described as the lead champion for expanding quality youth mentoring relationships in the United States. The organization recently teamed up with the WNBA, AT&T, and Deloitte to host a virtual event for 60 high school girl basketball players. The event was centered around the power of representation and mentorship and featured a panel of WNBA players including Alana Beard, Azura Stephens, and Natalie Achonwa. Executives and volunteers from Deloitte were also involved in the conversation geared towards high school players from predominantly Black and Latinx communities in Atlanta, Boston, New Orleans, and New York.
Tara Spann, the chief people & strategy officer at MENTOR, answered a few questions about the program and how members of the Atlanta communities can get involved.
Symone Stanley: What are some of the long-term goals of the organization?
Tara Spann: 30 years ago, MENTOR was created to expand opportunities for young people by building a youth mentoring field and movement. Now we see a more than 10-fold increase in young people in structured mentoring relationships. It’s our goal to continue to expand the quality and quantity of mentoring relationships nationwide.
As the expert voice representing the mentoring movement, we create systems to establish mentoring mindsets every place young people are – from schools to workplaces, and beyond. MENTOR serves the mentoring field by providing training and technical assistance, evidence-based standards for effective mentoring practices, and high-profile public awareness campaigns. For example, we recently launched a Workplace Equity Campaign to provide resources and professional development for individuals and employers to advance best practices in culture and recruitment.
Long-term, we are focused on amplifying the voices of young people, amplifying our resources and tools for effective mentoring, and amplifying our mission to close the mentoring gap.
SS: How did the WNBA’s involvement with MENTOR add value to the conversation on representation?
TS: Working with the WNBA is a big win for the mentoring movement to achieve our mission of closing the mentoring gap. One in three young people reports not having a single adult to turn to outside of their immediate family. Loneliness and isolation are trending upwards. Now more than ever, our young people need us. Any time we get to partner with a well-respected organization like the WNBA, it gives us enhanced credibility and a new audience to share our message.
Mentoring in sports has always been a natural connection, but working with the WNBA brought out stories about the power of mentorships and the importance of recruiting more women coaches of color. Natalie Achonwa, a player for the Minnesota Lynx, said, “You cannot be what you cannot see.” As a former basketball player and coach, I know the power of this statement. At the time that I dreamed of being a pro basketball player, there was no WNBA or ABL. I didn’t see it, so I couldn’t be it. This is why I’m amped and inspired by this partnership opportunity to amplify the importance of mentorship.
SS: What are the biggest misconceptions when it comes to mentorship?
TS: Many people are hesitant to become a mentor because they think you have to be perfect, or that you have to have all the answers. That’s simply not true. You just have to be you. Also, people think it’s a huge time commitment. A little bit of time dedicated to a young person can go a long way. And you don’t have to be much older or wiser to be a great mentor.
SS: How could interested individuals in Atlanta get involved with MENTOR?
TS: In the downtown Atlanta region alone, there are 42 organizations looking for mentor volunteers. To sign up to be a mentor, people can go to our website, mentoring.org/amplify. If individuals want to get involved in other ways, they can go to our website to sign-up for advocacy alerts, donate, or share their individual mentoring story on our repository.