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Growing People

How have mentors have impacted your life?

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Last night I was watching a TV series about time travel. Think Back to the Future meets It’s a Wonderful Life, with a little Dr. Who thrown in.

As often happens in this genre, characters made small alterations in the past that result in dramatic changes to the future. Watching the show made me wonder: How would it affect things if I had never known certain people in my life? How wouldI be different? How would my life change?

When it comes to some of the people in my life, I don’t have to wonder. I know things would have turned out significantly different if it weren’t for my parents, siblings, husband, and children. The same is true for some teachers, coaches, pastors, roommates, colleagues, friends, and, yes, mentors. The Oxford Dictionary defines a mentor as “an experienced and trusted adviser who trains and counsels.” I would not be the person I am today if it weren’t for the many experienced and trusted advisers who took time to invest in my life.

Guidance from the older generation

Many older mentors have invested in me over the years. I think of Geri who challenged me with insightful questions and spoke truths that were at times hard to hear. I think of Donna who showed me how to improve my public speaking and teach more effectively. I think of Mary Kate who taught me how be “centered” while navigating difficult conversations and challenging dynamics in executive leadership. I think of Margie, who drew on her experience of raising five kids, to help me figure out when to bring my baby into the doctor. I think of Anne who modeled generosity and gave valuable advice on parenting teens: “Their emotions are like roller coasters, but it doesn’t mean you have to get on the ride!”

Gifts from peers

When I think of valued mentors, I also remember friends and colleagues who broadened my worldview. Je Han, Darna, and Christina shared the delights of Korean, Filipino, and Indian food and culture with me, helping me grow beyond my Chinese ethnocentrism. I think of Tina, J.J., and Phil who opened the door to the joys of Gospel music. I think of Marshae and Ashley who let me into their stories, and their pain, as ethnic minority leaders leading in dominant culture. I think of Erna, Kafi, Jess, Paul, and Brandi who push me to think critically and consider different perspectives about culture, spirituality, and politics.

Wisdom from virtual mentors

I think of the “virtual” mentors – those I’ve never met in person, but whose writings and lives have inspired, challenged, and encouraged me. I’m indebted to people like Oscar Romero, Dr. Martin Luther King, Alice Walker, Richard Twiss, Chung Hyun Kyung, Watchman Nee, Kwok Pui-Lan, Justo Gonzalez, Howard Thurman, just to name a few.

Who are the mentors in your life? How have they changed your life? How have they helped you grow and become you are today?

A Chinese proverb says: “If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want ten years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want one hundred years of prosperity, grow people.”

Growing people is precisely what the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust endeavors to do. We fulfill that mandate by partnering with nonprofits to strengthen their leaders and investing in their growth. In addition to providing grant opportunities, we provide various enrichment programs, such as “Women in Leadership,” a conference that invests in the professional, spiritual, and leadership development of women nonprofit leaders from a faith perspective.

Recently I had the privilege of meeting with the Executive Director of a nonprofit whose core work is culturally responsive mentoring. They invest in the lives of young people around the Portland metro area, changing the narrative of disempowerment into a story of value and care. What a privilege to hear the stories of young people’s lives being transformed! They are taking a different trajectory because someone invested in their growth.

What would these lives be like, if these mentors did not exist? Thankfully, because of the sacrifices and investments of nonprofit staff and volunteers, that is a future I do not need to imagine.

Pauline Fong is a Program Director with the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust.