We ALL Need Mentors!

The following blog is a cross-post from Disability.blog, the official blog of Disability.gov. The blog is co-written by Jennifer Sheehy, Deputy Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, and David Shapiro, President and CEO, MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership.

National Mentoring Month

Mentoring, at its core, guarantees young people that there is someone who cares about them, assures them they are not alone in dealing with day-to-day challenges, and makes them feel like they matter. Research confirms that quality mentoring relationships have powerful positive effects on young people in a variety of personal, academic and professional situations. By preparing young people for college and careers, mentoring also helps develop the future workplace talent pipeline. Mentors can help prepare their mentees for professional careers and assist with their workplace skills. Ultimately, mentoring connects a young person to personal growth and development, and social and economic opportunity.

Yet one in three young people will grow up without this critical asset and youth with disabilities tend to have even fewer mentoring opportunities.

To affirm the importance of mentoring, every president since 1990 has proclaimed January to be National Mentoring Month. In his 2016 proclamation, President Obama declared that “[w]hen given a chance to use their talents and abilities to engage in their communities and contribute to our world, our Nation’s youth rise to the challenge. They make significant impacts in their communities and shape a brighter future for coming generations.” The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and MENTOR: The National Partnership, are collaborating on this blog to help ensure the inclusion of people with disabilities in the movement to expand mentoring opportunities for all.

Jennifer Sheehy: ODEP recognizes the value of policies and programs that effectively increase mentoring for youth and adults with disabilities and that build bridges to the workplace. To develop and influence disability employment-related policies and practices, ODEP sponsors five policy and technical assistance centers. One of these is the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth) – a partnership to promote success for youth with disabilities entering the world of work.

The NCWD/Youth website houses numerous youth-focused resources, developed in collaboration with ODEP, including the Guideposts for Success, and extensive information related to career development, professional development and youth development and leadership. The guidance includes mentoring activities designed to establish strong relationships with adults, peer-to-peering mentoring programs, exposure to role models, self-advocacy training, as well as promote awareness of disability history, culture, and public policy issues. I urge organizations and individuals to use these tools to help improve outcomes for all youth in transition towards independence.

Our nation’s disability mentoring programs are making strides in delivery of a variety of models, including one-on-one matches, group, peer and e-platforms. Many of the organizations sponsoring mentor programs are now collaborating as part of the National Disability Mentoring Coalition (NDMC) to strengthen the quantity, quality and impact of disability mentoring on employment, community inclusion, and quality of life. I applaud this collaboration and encourage the development of new strategies to ensure more individuals with disabilities are included in mentoring programs – as both mentors and mentees. I myself have immensely benefited from the guidance of mentors in my career, and I am gratified to see many of my mentees succeeding professionally and personally.

[NOTE: In October 2015, Ms. Sheehy was named as one of 25 outstanding leaders as the first inductees into the Susan M. Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame. The inductees were selected by the NDMC for their demonstrated commitment to mentoring and for the impact of their contributions on improving the lives of people with disabilities.]

David Shapiro: Mentoring revolves around a common need – the need for supportive, caring relationships. This need is universal and applies to all people no matter their circumstance. Ultimately, the goal of the mentoring movement is to increase access to these quality relationships, as they have been available to far too few young people. But the movement can only reach its full potential, just as we can only reach our full potential as a society, when it is inclusive.

There are a number of circumstances that can result in isolation and disconnection and living with a disability is one of them. The essence of mentoring is to break down these barriers, to turn isolation into connection. It is for this reason MENTOR and our network of affiliates have long stood committed to inclusion in mentoring and are proud to partner with NDMC in striving to more fully integrate training and technical assistance on inclusion in youth mentoring programs. This collaboration will positively impact youth with disabilities across the nation by assisting with their transition to independent and productive lives. It is informed and bolstered by the work we have done with the Corporation for National and Community Services, the experience of Partners for Youth with Disabilities and so many leaders in the movement to close the support and opportunity gap for all young people.

In conjunction with National Mentoring Month, we are launching MENTOR’s signature campaign, In Real Life, which seeks to build public awareness of the real-life benefits of mentoring and highlights opportunities to increase and deepen the impact mentoring can have. Naturally, this is the perfect time to increase our support of both mentees and mentors with disabilities – in real life, we live in a diverse society where all young people should have the opportunity to experience the benefits of having a mentor and where our common humanity and connection is our greatest asset.

ODEP and MENTOR look forward to improving mentoring outcomes for youth and adults with disabilities in January and throughout the year. All people, including those with disabilities, should have access to a mentor. As we begin this journey, we ask the disability and mentoring communities to share their thoughts, hopes and stories in social media using #MentorIRL and #DisabilityMentors.

About the Guest Bloggers

As Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy, Jennifer Sheehy leads the Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and advises the Secretary of Labor and internal agencies on how departmental policies impact people with disabilities.  Ms. Sheehy actively supports the agency’s signature issues including integrated employment, accessible technology, federal employment and new rules designed to strengthen Federal contractors’ responsibilities to recruit and retain people with disabilities.  Prior to her work in ODEP, Ms. Sheehy spent 10 years at the U.S. Department of Education working in many roles, including Director of Policy and Planning in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS).  Other career highlights include senior positions with the Presidential Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disabilities and the National Organization on Disability.

David Shapiro is the President and CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, the unifying champion for expanding quality youth mentoring relationships. MENTOR was founded 25 years ago to build and activate a mentoring movement. Since then, the number of mentoring relationships has grown from 300,000 to more than four million. MENTOR’s strategy incorporates policy expertise and advocacy, public awareness and mobilization. The organization bridges research to practice, and develops and delivers standards, training and tools. MENTOR works in collaboration with its national network of affiliate Mentoring Partnerships.

Under Shapiro’s leadership, MENTOR has been highlighted by the Social Impact Exchange, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, and was selected by the U.S Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to establish and lead the National Mentoring Resource Center. Shapiro was previously the CEO of MENTOR’s Massachusetts affiliate, Mass Mentoring Partnership (MMP). He chairs the Mass Nonprofit Network board and serves as a volunteer leader with America’s Promise Alliance and the National Human Service Assembly. Shapiro is a husband, father and mentor.

For more about information, please visit: ODEP, MENTOR: The National Partnership, and National Disability Mentoring Coalition.

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