“Plato’s meeting with Socrates had been a turning point in his life.”
So notes Will Durant, the eminent historian writing in his “Story of Philosophy” (Simon and Schuster, New York, N.Y., 1926) of the importance in Plato’s life of the relationship he had developed with the older Socrates. “Plato’s subtle soul, had found a new joy in the dialectic games of Socrates; it was a delight for him to behold the master. He became a passionate lover of wisdom and of his teacher.” Was the first recorded mentoring relationship Socrates to Plato?
But mentoring goes back even further. (In Homer’s Odyssey, Athene assumes the shape of Mentor–the trusted friend of Odysseus–and whispers advice to Odysseus’s son Telemachus.) It is as old as the notion that the young will want to emulate the old; the ignorant, the wise; the have-nots, the haves. Always, there have been men and women who have had aspirations (these, the mentees) and other men and women (the mentors) willing to help them achieve them.
Mentors and mentees come in all shapes and sizes. They are old and young and rich and poor, white and black and yellow. They come off of the streets, out of the classrooms, out of the boardrooms.
There are differences among them. But what mentees have in common is a belief in the notion that there is a better life out there, and that one way to get it is to learn from someone who has it. Mentors share the notion that because they have made it in the world, they have a commitment to help others make it.
History supports both notions. Counselors and teachers and sociologists, parents and professors and clergymen, observing at every level of society through the years, appear to be unanimous that mentoring works as a positive influence to turn lives around, or in some cases, to save them. Today, in growing numbers, candidates for teenage pregnancy and the school drop-out and drug-addiction population who choose a mentoring relationship seem, evidence suggests, to be choosing a way out–and up.
It is not surprising, then, that community leaders sensitive to the problems of educating “at-risk” students find themselves supporting growing numbers of both new and existing mentoring programs. Given the community’s investment in time, money and hope in the institution of mentoring, The Abell Foundation believes it serves the community’s best interests to examine mentoring pro grams as they are currently meeting needs, and to set out a realistic view of how they might serve future needs.