Creating Social Capital Through Mentoring

— In honor of National Mentoring Month, here's how you can create opportunity for others.

By: Loán C. Lake

Imagine having someone outside of your family circle to help you navigate the pitfalls of life as you grow up. From whether or not to attend college to what type of summer internship you should seek or someone to expose you to experiences that vary from your day to day surroundings. That is the benefit of having a mentor or life navigator and access to the social capital of another who can create opportunity in the life of someone else. For some, this type of resource is just a phone call or text away. For many more, though, these types of relationships seem out of reach.

January is National Mentoring Month, and mentoring is one form of social capital that anyone can exercise. In our Leading on Opportunity Task Force Report, Social Capital was highlighted as a cross-cutting factor in economic mobility. Why? Because research indicates that the consistent, enduring presence of a caring adult in a person’s life can be the difference between staying in school or dropping out, making healthy decisions or engaging in risky behaviors, and realizing one’s potential or failing to achieve one’s dreams.

In his book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis,author Robert Putnam illustrates how children growing up in poverty typically have extremely low levels of social capital – connections to individuals outside of their family. His research further reveals that while 64% of affluent children have mentoring relationships beyond their extended family, nearly two-thirds of children from low-income backgrounds do not. As part of our efforts to increase economic mobility for Charlotte residents, we want to ensure that all children, youth, and families have relationships in the community which:

  • Connect them to opportunities, information, and resources
  • Broaden their horizons about what’s possible in their lives
  • Assist in navigating through unexpected crises to stay on track
  • Offer tangible pathways toward achieving their aspirations
  • Demonstrate to every child, youth, and family that their contribution is vital to the success of our community.

Through the work of community partners like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Carolinas, YMCA of Greater Charlotte, My Brother’s Keeper, Young Black Leadership Alliance, Carolina Youth Coalition, and others, Charlotte youth are being given a chance to see beyond their current circumstances.

Specifically, our team is working closely with YMCA and My Brother’s Keeper on an initiative that aligns closely with thirteen of our strategies to ensure that all students have access to life navigators. We are also introducing a pilot program, developed by Green Ivy Educational Consulting, that promotes economic mobility to CMS middle school students.

All it takes to use social capital for good is the willingness of someone to invest a few hours of their time to enrich the lives of others. When we see someone who looks like us, comes from a similar background, or who has a shared experience accomplishing things we once thought were out of our reach, there is a greater tendency to believe that we, too, can achieve our dreams.

How are you using your social capital for good? Share your story with us on Facebook or Twitter.