The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast us.
In 1988, after returning from my encounter with Nick Spaneas and the other Work Connection mentors, I sat down and wrote a thin volume suggesting that older adults had special gifts that made them particularly well-suited for connecting with young people -- even tough kids like those targeted by The Work Connection. However, these conclusions did not propel me toward a new career dedicated to reengaging the time, talent, and experience of the older population on behalf of society. Rather, I began a decade-long inquiry into the potential of mentoring and the question of how we could create more relationships with caring adults for kids who needed them -- regardless of the age of the mentors themselves.
What did I learn from all those years studying the value of mentors? In some ways, not much that Nick and his colleagues at The Work Connection hadn't already told me a decade earlier: that kids need adults who care about them (in Nick's words, "adults with patience, adults who feel about them," not "bluffers"), and that when kids have such adults, these young people are not only happier but tend to be less vulnerable to the pitfalls of growing up today, including drug abuse, alcoholism, smoking, violence, and truancy.
All of these common-sense insights were confirmed by a major national study of the Big Brother/Big Sister program that I helped develop, and by hundreds of interviews I conducted directly during the late 198os and early 1990s. In the end, we knew not only that mentoring mattered but also that the mentors who succeeded were the ones who put in the time and who were there for young people consistently. They showed up, and it paid off.
And although this news was enormously encouraging in some ways -- we