Mentorship: Anyone can be a mentor — they need only have the leadership to do so

The other day someone asked what I wished I could be famous for. I responded with my standard answer, which is somewhat obvious for someone who does the work that I do — I would be famous for being a mentor to someone who creates positive change in our world.

Some define mentor as someone who is older and more experienced, who guides someone else’s development without any personal gain. I challenge that definition and say that the relationship of mentoring is a reciprocal one, that mentors are not always older and that experience does not have a timeline.

Fifteen years ago, I started along the path of nonprofit work with youth as just a youth myself. Since then, the true highlights of my life have often involved a young person. I crossed paths with one of these people just a few years ago.

When I met Joe Opatowski, he was 19 years old and stood on stage wearing baggy jeans and a Roots T-shirt. He spoke from the heart about our ability to change and be changed by our interactions with others. He told his story of being inspired by someone younger than himself to take the leadership skills he possessed to create a positive difference.

As Joe spoke about the events and people that impacted his life, I realized it had been a while since I had a mentor and that Joe would become mine. We stayed in touch after the conference, and it is in part because of him that I decided to focus my work on youth leadership development and community service, which eventually brought me to Vashon Youth Council.

Soon after I met Joe, I began facilitating at youth leadership conferences. I shared his inspiration everywhere I went. I talked about how anyone can be a mentor, how Joe had been a mentor to me and how I learned from his style, outlook on life and enlightening words. I talked about how he had reminded me of my own passions in life. Joe’s mentoring had impacted me and in turn influenced young leaders all over the United States.

I am sure I have touched lives in the past 15 years since I have worked with youth. I have received phone calls, letters and Facebook messages that let me know I have.

I have also been changed by these relationships, and for that I am grateful. I am thankful to the youth who have given me a fresh perspective, kept me grounded and most of all inspired me through their actions and words.

Do I think that healthy relationships between youth and adults are critical? Absolutely. They can be life-changing. But remember, mentors are not limited by age or years of experience.

— Amy Ezzo is the director of Vashon Youth Council.

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