“You Have a Letter Waiting for You!”

Guest post by Kevin Manzel, director of content development, The Great Courses

Editor’s Note: January is National Mentoring Month! To celebrate, we’ve partnered with Cricket Media to share stories about the positive impact mentoring — especially eMentoring — can have on young people’s lives.

I have always been passionate about volunteerism  — not because there was one specific cause I felt drawn to, but because of the gratification I derive from volunteering.

Some of my favorite memories from college were the hours I carved out of a busy study and work schedule to volunteer through our school’s Circle K chapter — the world’s largest student-led collegiate service organization. And more recently, when I was offered the opportunity to chair my company’s first-ever philanthropy program, I immediately accepted.

One initiative I championed within my company was Cricket Media’s CricketTogether program. It offered the ideal opportunity to take my professional passion for developing learning content for students of any age and applying it to a specific goal: increasing the reading and critical thinking skills of school-aged children.

I started with CricketMedia as part of their pilot program in spring 2017.

From the time first time I connected with the student I was to e-mentor, I was hooked. In his letter — this is one of the communication methods in CricketTogether — the student told me about his family, how he liked soccer and football, how he wanted to learn about woodworking because his dad was a carpenter. I was able to share my interest in sports, and also ask him to think about what he’d like to build if he were a carpenter. He gave me this exciting idea for a boat to rescue people stranded on an island. It was so heart-warming, yet showed how he was able to apply his dream to solving problems for others.

Once we’d built rapport over our families and interests, we read magazine articles together (virtually) and discussed them. Since I have a son the exact same age as my pen pal, it was both easy and fun to pick out what I found interesting, and then prod him with questions I knew would encourage creative thinking. Best of all, I looked forward to getting my e-mail notice that “You have a letter waiting for you!” He would always weave in a detail or two from one of my previous letters that let me know he wasn’t just doing an assignment; he was forging a friendship with me. Those are skills that he will take with him into the world that will serve him no matter where life takes him.

The program has been such an immediate smash hit at my company that we went from 43 volunteers in the first installment of the program in spring 2017 (already exceeding the request of 25) to an amazing 103 this past fall — nearly 50% of our entire company’s workforce!

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of being a mentor and taking advantage of the ease of opportunity afforded by the internet. With eMentoring, you don’t have to travel anywhere. And your student doesn’t have to be bussed or driven somewhere. You get the satisfaction of helping build a child’s skill levels and self-esteem without the pressure of him or her taking a test, speaking in front of the class, or risking embarrassment or being intimidated. And if your child doesn’t get attention at home, then you get to be that adult, one-on-one attention that every child craves, and every child deserves.

Who wouldn’t feel good about that and grow as a person from that experience?

Inspired by Kevin’s story? This National Mentoring Month, become an eMentor yourself! Check out CricketTogether or these mentoring volunteer opportunities to learn how you or your company can get involved.

Author Bio: Kevin Manzel is the director of content development for The Great Courses, the leader in producing lifelong learning media. Kevin leads his company’s corporate giving efforts, with a focus on adult and childhood literacy.