Committing to Mentorship: Guest Blogger/Former Capstone Student John Dictson on How to Stay Focused in Civic Engagement

John Dictson recently completed the UNST 421: Enhancing Youth Literacy Capstone and was volunteering with kids at the University Park Community Center Homework Club program. His final submission was an action plan committed to focusing his community work on mentor relationships that are long-term.  Read through John’s plan and please feel free to leave him comments or questions!  His words appear below in teal:

I’ve been involved in a number of volunteer activities over the last few years, including helping out with the Sunday school at my church, working with a local nonprofit, and assistant coaching a little league baseball team. One thing that really struck me during my time at University Park Community Center this term was the potential for relationships. The kids I worked with are so much fun, and it is clear that they really appreciate  and benefit from healthy adult relationships with the volunteers and staff. Most important, though, is the consistency of these relationships. I have done a lot of hopping around from one volunteer opportunity to the next and not developed many lasting relationships with those I was serving. This next year, I would really like to commit to something long term and relational.

STEP 1: CONNECT WITH THE MENTORING PROJECT

The first thing that comes to mind is mentorship. I’ve actually explored this avenue a couple of different times over the last few years and never followed through. The first time because I thought I would be moving out of Portland and the program required a one year commitment. The second time because I just got lazy and never finished the paperwork. I would really love to get connected with an at risk youth in my community, perhaps someone who doesn’t have a strong male figure in his or her life and really get to know them, encourage them, and help them grow.

My plan—to connect with The Mentoring Project, “an advocacy and training organization that serves as a liaison between faith communities and matching agencies to provide mentors for fatherless youth,” and get connected with a local youth who I can commit to spending quality time with over the next year.

STEP 2: FOCUS THE WORK

I have been so spread thin with small volunteer opportunities that I have failed to really invest myself in any one thing. My hope with mentorship is that I can really pour my heart into one relationship that will benefit both of us for life. This also just happens to coincide with a recent decision I have made to pare down my volunteer commitments which are causing me to feel burnt out and frustrated, which is not where I want to be when I am serving my community.

STEP 3: KEEP INFORMED

I got a rough reminder in this class that I am terribly ill informed when it comes to social and political issues that are shaping the world around me. Just coming back to school for this last year has been an eye opener to how ignorant I really am. In addition to really scaling back and focusing on one or two significant volunteer opportunities, I am committing staying informed on current issues. I plan to utilize the technology that I so often take for granted like my smart phone and subscribe to relevant social and political content. And I’m committing to actually researching and voting in local elections, which I have been terribly negligent in participating in, well, since I became old enough to vote.

STEP 4: SHOW THE LIBRARY SOME LOVE

I would love to find a way to contribute more to libraries. I love reading to kids and something I’ve always wanted to do but never have is get involved in a reading program at a local library. Getting kids involved in reading is something I’ve always been passionate about and it’s high time I actually did something with that. So my plan with respect to that is to sign up as a reader for Family Story Time or Pajama Story Time at the Tualatin Public Library (I’m moving to Tualatin in August), and commit to reading to kids there once a week if possible.

STEP 5: ACCOUNTABILITY & BUILDING A COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE

The best way for me to stay on track with these goals is to share them with my friends and family. I’ve recently started a blog (pdxtoafrica.tumblr.com) where I’m posting updates on an upcoming trip to Africa and writing there has really helped me to stay connected to what I’m doing. It is challenging to keep up with (I’m well over a week behind on posting right now), but knowing that people are reading it helps motivate me. Along that vein, I would be happy to put my plan up on the PDXEAN blog if it would inspire others to get and stay involved. And yes, a periodic email would be great. Having some outside accountability would be motivating, I think.

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