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Best Friends volunteer recounts first American Thanksgiving

ripple_12_15Note: Lai Yangcheng or “Ripple” is a high school exchange student from China and new volunteer at Best Friends Mentoring. Below is the first of several blogs he plans to write this academic year highlighting many of his new experiences. Best Friends extends a huge thank-you to Ripple and his host family for thinking of us. Ripple is a fantastic young man and volunteer!

Hello, my name is Lai Yangcheng. You can call me Ripple! I come from a large country in Asia—China. I am 17 years old and now stay in America as an exchange student. I live with my nice host family in Dickinson, ND and also study in a local school named Dickinson High School (DHS). By the way, my big brother has been in the U.S. for four years and now he is studying at Concordia University. I am going to stay here for 10 months and now I have been here for three months. I find that everything is new and a challenge for me. Honestly, I believe that the experience in this period of time is teaching me and changing me a lot mentally and physically.

For example, my first Thanksgiving Day which just happened not long ago was a really different experience for me. Because there is not Thanksgiving Day in China, I didn’t know what people do and how they celebrate it at all, so I was really excited for this day. At that day, in the morning, my host family invited me to participate with them in a community service activity to send meals to people who are unable to prepare dinner themselves. I have never done this kind of things before! We sent some pies and salads to residents in nursing home, and we said “Happy Thanksgiving!” to everyone we met. I felt so good to help others and I was impressed for I saw so many people were there to help! After we came back, my host family prepared some food and snacks and then we went to one of our friend’s houses for a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner which provided A LOT of food (my nickname is Bottomless Pit)! Before the last dinner, we played a nice game of Caton that I just learned how to play several days before Thanksgiving Day. Even though we didn’t really finish that game, I knew I would lose…! They talked a lot, and normally I just listened to them quietly as I am not good at talking a lot in English, but they did told some jokes that made me laugh.

When dinner came, all the kids sat in a round table and that scene was just so warm and lovely! Then all the food was put on the table, which included pies, mash potatoes, some food I don’t know the names and TURKEY! And that was also my first time eating turkey. Something I found interesting was that every family took some food and pies to the dinner and they told me it is a traditional thing, I think this is really fun as we don’t do that in China. At night, I thought I should do something on Thanksgiving Day, so I decided to write a thank-you letter to my responsible host parents, as they take care of me, are so considerate and protect me all the time. And absolutely, they were happy and I was glad, too! My first Thanksgiving Day was just an excellent day!

Finally, I think Thanksgiving Day is a really meaningful day. People are thankful to everyone around them and say “thank you” to their families, friends, teachers and God. I had a great first Thanksgiving Day and it will exist in my memory forever! Of course, there were a lot interesting, funny or even hard things that happened to me in these months, and also things will happen to me in the rest of my time here, so perhaps I can tell more next time! I believe that all my experiences will become a part of me and my life — my wonderful American life!!

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SANTA CLAUS is coming to town

Santa waving

Visiting Santa a great family tradition

Be on hand to greet SANTA CLAUS at 11 a.m. on Saturday, November 21st, when he arrives in Dickinson on a fire truck at Prairie Hills Mall!
Enjoy holiday music by the Dickinson High School Band prior to Santa’s arrival.
Santa will be hearing wishes and taking photos with children from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Photos cost $15/2, with proceeds benefiting the Best Friends Mentoring Program.
Best Friends Mentoring provides mentoring services to at-risk school age children in Dickinson and southwest North Dakota.Santa with Christmas baby

For a full schedule of Santa hours, go to For more information or to volunteer as Santa’s Helper, call Best Friends Mentoring Program at 701-483-8615.


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Coaches’ Mentoring Challenge

Big 10 Football Coaches Challenge Fans to be Mentors

The Big Ten Conference is joining MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership (MENTOR) and local nonprofit partners across the country to launch the Coaches’ Mentoring Challenge – an effort BigTen-300x188to connect young people with caring adult mentors. Through this effort, Big Ten football coaches at the conference’s 14 universities will encourage fans to support the next generation of students and alumni by becoming a mentor to a young person.

“By connecting young people with caring adults we provide them with a powerful asset to achieve success in all aspects of their lives,” said David Shapiro, CEO and President of MENTOR. “Coaches are mentors both on and off the field and they are uniquely positioned to motivate fans to become mentors. We’re grateful for the commitment of those involved and the energy brought by the Big Ten support of this challenge.”

“This partnership is an exciting opportunity to make an impact on the young people in our communities,” said Big Ten Commissioner James E. Delany. “Our vast network of passionate alumni and fans can create both positive connections and impressions while mentoring the next generation of young fans.”

MENTOR’s report, The Mentoring Effect, found, through a nationally representative survey of young adults ages 18-21, that mentoring is linked to improved academic, social and economic prospects. As just one example, at-risk young adults surveyed who had a mentor while they were growing up were 55% more likely to be enrolled in college than those who did not have a mentor. The report also found that one in three young people will grow up without having a mentor of any kind – either through a formal program or naturally through family friends or community ties.

The Coaches’ Mentoring Challenge is an annual campaign to connect more youth to mentors that began with Coach Tom Osborne at the University of Nebraska and Coach Bill Snyder at Kansas State in 2008. Within seven years, coaches from Big 12 and Big Ten schools have joined the challenge and in 2014 they rallied over 10,000 new volunteers.

All of the coaches are challenging fans to volunteer to mentor youth in their communities. Many of the coaches are also teamed up with MENTOR’s affiliate Mentoring Partnerships and other nonprofit partners.

The Coaches’ Mentoring Challenge kicked off on August 1st and runs through November 30, with final results released during the first week in December. Call Best Friends Mentoring Program today at 701-483-8615 to be counted in the Coaches’ Mentoring Challenge! Or visit and search for a mentoring program in their community.

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Bullying: What Has Changed in 30 Years?

Researcher Wendy Troop-Gordon, North Dakota State University, wrote this piece for ND Compass. Read more for common myths about bullying, current research and what the newest bully research says.

Wendy Troop-Gordon is an Associate Professor in the department of Psychology at NDSU. She received her doctoral Wendy Troop-Gordon_140
degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2002. Her research focuses on peer relationships in childhood and adolescence, the factors that shape those relationships, and how peer relationships influence mental health and school adjustment.

October was bullying prevention month. While much important outreach is conducted during that month, it does not mean that the work stops there. The work to prevent bullying can be carried out year-around, and therefore today is a perfect time to discuss what researchers have learned about bullying and how we can keep all of our children safe at school and in our communities. As a developmental psychologist who studies bullying, parents often ask me for advice because their child has been bullied. Many times what they describe is an incident in which their child has been in a fight with a friend or was made fun of by a peer. These incidents can be painful, and it is important to help children learn how to cope with stress in their peer relationships. However, they are not what researchers would label as “bullying.” Bullying is a very specific pattern of behavior in which one or more children repeatedly aggress against a weaker peer. Children who are bullied are often the targets of their peers’ aggression weekly, or even daily. More concerning is that this bullying may last for years. Not surprising, then, understanding the dynamics that support bullying and the consequences for victims has been at the forefront of developmental psychology for over 30 years.

What Do We Know about Bullying That We Did Not Know Three Decades Ago?When researchers first started studying bullying, they asked the questions everyone wanted answered. Who are the kids who bully? Why are they doing this? Why do some kids get bullied and others don’t? How do we stop this from happening?
To understand the children who bully, researchers turned to an already extensive literature on children’s aggression. This literature suggested that bullies possess characteristics not that different from what we often picture when we hear the word “bully.” Children who bully were thought to be highly aggressive, socially incompetent, disliked by other kids, and unable to control their emotions. It was also assumed that bullies were typically boys. However, as the research on bullying matured, researchers noticed some counterintuitive findings. Some children who bullied were very popular with their classmates. Some were quite socially skilled. Some were girls. Furthermore, rather than bullying because they could not control their anger, these popular bullies were using aggression effectively to dominate their peers and elevate their own social status.
We now know that children who engage in bullying are quite different than the stereotype portrayed in the media. Children who engage in bullying are often some of the most popular in their school, and they typically have a large number of friends. In addition, rather than showing deficits in their social skills, they are quite socially adept. Not only are they able to understanding others’ feelings, they are able to use this information to aggress against weaker peers.
In contrast, the children they bully are typically overly sensitive, anxious, and submissive to peers’ demands. Children who are bullied are often rejected by kids their own age and have few friends. Not infrequently, children who are bullied are younger than the children who bully them. Researchers have also found that children who violate gender norms, are LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Questioning), or are cognitively impaired are at heightened risk for being bullied. Somewhat surprising was the discovery that some victims, approximately a third, are aggressive (i.e., aggressive-victims). However, their aggression is often ineffectual and elicits further bullying from peers. The consequence is that these children often end up in a vicious circle of being bullied, aggressing against others, and then being bullied again.
Perhaps the most important advancement in the study of bullying is the recognition that bullying is a group phenomenon. Around 85% of bullying occurs in the presence of bystanders, and the behavior of these bystanders is critical to the initiation and maintenance of bullying. Some bystanders are assistants, who aid in the bullying, or reinforcers who laugh and smile. Their behaviors reward the children engaging in the bullying. Other children act as defenders who stand up for the victim, elicit the help of adults, or provide the victim emotional support. Children bully because they want power and popularity in their peer group. The presence of assistants and reinforcers signal that their aggression is having the desired effect. When children act as defenders, the bullying no longer serves as a means of gaining popularity, and we see decreases in bullying among children. It is not surprising, then, that bullying is targeted at weaker peers who are often disliked by others and unlikely to have peers willing to defend them.

What Common Myths Persist that Hurt Anti-bullying Efforts?
Despite huge efforts to educate the public about bullying, a number of myths still abound. Unfortunately, these misconceptions hamper our ability to effectively prevent bullying and address it when it happens.

  • Myth: Bullies hurt others because they suffer from low self-esteem. It is true that children who are aggressive-victims show very low self-esteem. However, most children who bully are quite popular, experience little ridicule from peers, and feel quite good about themselves. In my own research, I find that boys who are popular and bully show decreased depression over time. Dismissing these children’s aggression as simply a manifestation of low self-esteem does not help stop the bullying and, in the long run, will not help the child being bullied.
  • Myth: Bullying is just part of growing up. Only a small percentage of children are bullied, approximately 10-20%. Similarly only a small percentage of children, 5-10%, bully.  Therefore, bullying is hardly an experience most children encounter. This myth is particularly dangerous because it implies that bullying is a rite of passage that everyone goes through and survives unscathed and stronger for the experience. In reality, children who are bullied show long-term risk for depression, anxiety, substance use, suicidal ideation, and other mental health problems. My own research shows that being the target of bullying changes how children think about their peers and cope with interpersonal problems leading to later depression and aggression. Furthermore, my research has shown that children who are bullied fare worse if they have parents who believe bullying is just a normal, childhood experience.
  • Myth: Victims should just stand up for themselves. Often when talking about bullying, people will tell me a story about when they were picked on. The story ends with them simply punching or kicking the other child, never to be bothered again. What these stories miss is that bullies often choose victims who are unable to stick up for themselves. Moreover, research has shown consistently that when children who are bullied report that they respond by trying to get revenge, their bullying actually escalated, and they experienced increased emotional distress.
  • Myth: Bullying is socialization. People often believe that bullying is a means of getting children to change their behavior. For example, people believe that making others feel bad for being overweight will get them to eat better. In reality, such bullying does not change behavior, but rather increases risk for related psychological problems (e.g., eating disorders).  In my own research, I have tested the common assumption that children act in gender typical ways because they get bullied if their behavior violates gender norms. In actuality, gender atypicality rarely goes down after children have been bullied. What bullying children who are overweight, gender atypical, or LGBTQ does do is lead to increased mental health problems such as depression, social withdrawal, and suicidal ideation.
  • Myth: Rural areas are safe from bullying. Bullying is just as common in rural areas as it is in suburban or urban communities. Moreover, bullying can be even more detrimental in schools with very low diversity. In more diverse schools, children are able to blame their bullying on characteristics outside of their control (e.g., their ethnicity) and find a subgroup of peers with whom they can become friends. In more homogenous schools, victims of bullying are more likely to blame themselves for their bullying, leading to increased risk for mental health problems.

How does this information inform bully prevention efforts?
Foremost, prevention should focus on changing the peer group dynamics that support bullying. Teaching children to defend victims, rather than reinforce children for bullying, is a critical component of anti-bullying interventions. Furthermore, it is not enough to hope that victims will learn to deal with bullies on their own. Moving children who are bullying away from the children they victim (e.g., rearranging classroom seating assignments) has been shown to reduce bullying in classrooms and lead to better adjustment for the victims. Once victims are safe, teaching them how to effectively assert themselves without being aggressive can help prevent future bullying. Efforts should also be made to help victims make friends, particularly ones who would be willing and able to defend them from potential bullies.
Last, adults should be careful to model respect for all students, especially those most likely to be at risk for bullying, such as children who are cognitively impaired or who are LGBTQ. If they notice a child being bullied or marginalized, showing warmth to the child and highlighting the child’s talents can go a long way to gaining the child’s acceptance in the peer group. One of my favorite stories came from a North Dakota teacher who had noticed a boy in his class who was getting picked on. He found out the boy was good at Taekwondo, so every day he had the boy help him teach a little Taekwondo to the class. The result was the children learned that the boy was a valued member of their classroom, and the bullying stopped. Bullying is a difficult problem to tackle, but caring adults, such as this teacher, make a huge difference in lives of bullied children every day.
Excellent information about bullying can be found at including basic facts about bullying and tips on how to prevent bullying in our schools and communities.


Graham, S., Bellmore, A., Nishina, A., & Juvonen, J. (2009). “It must be me”: Ethnic diversity and attributions for peer victimization in middle school. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 487-499.

Hawley, P. H., Stump, K. N., & Ratliff, J. M. (2010). Sidestepping the jingle fallacy: Bullying, aggression, and the importance of knowing the difference. In D. Espelage & S. Swearer (Eds.), Bullying in American schools (pp. 101-115). Chicago, IL: Routledge.

Hong, J-S., & Espelage, D. L. (2012). A review of research on bullying and peer victimization in school: An ecological system analysis. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 17, 311-322.

Salmivalli, C. (2010). Bullying and the peer group: A review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15, 112-120.

Schwartz, D., Proctor, L. J., & Chien, D. H. (20XX). The aggressive victim of bullying: Emotional and behavioral dysregulation as a pathway to victimization by peers. In J. Juvonen & S. Graham (Eds.), Peer harassment in school: The plight of the vulnerable and victimized (pp. 147- 174). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Troop-Gordon, W. (2015). The role of the classroom teacher in the lives of children victimized by peers. Child Development Perspectives, 9, 55-60.

Troop-Gordon, W., & Gerardy, H. (2012). Parents’ beliefs about peer victimization and children’s social and emotional development. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 33, 40-52.

Troop-Gordon, W., Rudolph, K. R., Sugimura, N., & Little, T. D. (2015). Peer victimization in middle childhood impedes adaptive responses to stress: A pathway to depressive symptoms Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 44, 432-445.

Visconti, K. J., & Troop-Gordon, W. (2010). Prospective relations between children’s behavioral responses to peer victimization and their socioemotional adjustment. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 31, 261-272.

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Bullying In North Dakota: New Research

From our friends at ND Compass comes information on bullying in our state:

Bullying in North Dakota

The concept of bullying is not a new one. Nearly everyone has seen examples of bullying in action. Those that have not, are still familiar with examples through literature, movies, and music. While some of those portrayals demonstrate the common stereotype of the schoolyard bully physically beating up another child, research has shown that physical abuse is not the only form of bullying suffered in our schools. In fact, verbal abuse, which can manifest in a variety of ways from harassment and insults based on external characteristics to the spreading of rumors, is actually the most common. In addition, with the increased emphasis of online social activity, cyber bullying has become a swiftly increasing cause for concern.

So what does that mean for North Dakota specifically? The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) monitors the prevalence of priority health-risk behaviors among middle and high school students. Bullying is one of the behaviors tracked by the survey (e.g., bullied on school property and electronically bullied).

According to the 2013 YRBS survey, in North Dakota, 52 percent of middle school students have ever been bullied on school property. The percent who have ever been electronically bullied was 28 percent, with a significant difference between females (39%) and males (17%).

The 2013 YRBS survey administered to high school students revealed that one in four high school students (25%) have been bullied on school property and 17 percent have been electronically bullied, during the past 12 months.

A link to the YRBS survey can be found on the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction website and on ND Compass – Children and Youth – More Measures – Health.

In 2011, the North Dakota Legislative Assembly passed a bill requiring each public school to have a bullying prevention policy in place by July of 2012. While this may give the impression that bullying has not been addressed in our state until recently, that is not necessarily the case. Many schools have been employing a variety of strategies to address this commonly shared problem.

Join North Dakota State University’s Wendy Troop-Gordon, Ph.D., in this month’s Ask a Researcher, to learn about some common myths regarding bullying and how research helps with bullying prevention and children safety in schools and communities. In addition, Lynette Schaff from United Tribes Technical College provides some insight in this month’s For Discussion on how one North Dakota educational facility is taking measures to address bullying at all levels.


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The importance of relationships in children’s lives

From the Harvard Center for the Developing Child comes a brief, insightful video on how children’s mental health develops.

Science tells us that the foundations of sound mental health are built early in life. Early experiences—including children’s relationships with parents, caregivers, relatives, teachers, and peers—interact with genes to shape the architecture of the developing brain. Disruptions in this developmental process can impair a child’s capacities for learning and relating to others, with lifelong implications.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that mental health problems in children look and act differently than mental health problems in adults. A child’s developing brain is quite different from an adult brain full of experiences.

This edition of the InBrief series explains how improving children’s environments of relationships and experiences early in life can prevent initial difficulties from destabilizing later development and mental health.

Thanks to our friends at The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring for sharing this resource.


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I want to continue giving back

But now I need your help.

Chris Strub group

Three weeks since my cross-country trip ended, and I’m 100 percent determined to continue helping however I can. As I express in this video, I learned so much that I’m having trouble figuring out what to do with it all.

I want to continue to help in as big a way as possible, so this week, I launched an Indiegogo campaign, with a goal of speaking with 100 more nonprofits in a month’s time.
To make that campaign a success, I need your help, in two ways.

1) Identifying nonprofits that could use social media help. Organizations should contact me via email,, or even on my cell phone, (516) 818-3040. I’m offering an hour of one-on-one time to talk through anything they want to know about social media, regardless of their level of expertise. Please feel free to forward this email to any nonprofits that could use some help!
2) Consider making a contribution to my campaign. I *hate* asking, for anything, really. But one thing I learned this summer is that the best nonprofits know how to ask, and they are not shy about asking. So here’s my ask: I gave up everything this summer to highlight organizations that I had no previous connection to. Between traveling, volunteering and video editing, I spent almost every moment of my summer dedicated to that cause. For a contribution of $10 (or more), I will film a personalized thank-you Twitter video; if I have a memento and/or t-shirt from your organization, I’ll be sure to include it. (There are other perks listed on the page as well, feel free to check them out.)
This Indiegogo campaign will allow me two very important things: 1) to continue to give back to even more great organizations, and 2) to pay my rent, grocery and electric bills.

I hate to ask, and I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t in serious need right now.

If you are unable to contribute, no problem — another way you can help is writing a LinkedIn recommendation. (Thank you, Victoria, Kristyn, Wes, Nicole, Jeanette and Terri!)

Keep in touch; as always, let me know if there’s any ways I can help you; and thanks for your time.

(516) 818-3040

Categories: Commentary, Volunteering | 1 Comment

Chris Strub: Post Road-Trip Life

Decisions, decisions …

I’ve decided my goal is to effect even more change. Can you help?

Best Friends’ blog readers will remember Chris Strub, who visited 50 states and did 50 service projects in 100 days and included Dickinson and our mentoring program in his stops back in July. He’s completed his 100 days and sent this update:

Hi guys! Sorry about the delay in touching base again — the “slog” of a job search takes quite a bit out of a guy. (However, it’s still much easier physically than driving 200 miles a day for 13 weeks!).

Chris Strub's July travel and volunteer schedule!

Chris Strub’s July travel and volunteer schedule!

One thing that I had very little opportunity to do while traveling was sit down and think about what happens next. Thankfully, having now had that time, I know exactly what I want to do:

I want to help introduce a national organization, and its chapters, to new audiences through social media.

The single biggest lesson that I learned this summer is that EVERY organization has an amazing story to tell — whether they recognize it or not. Some do a better job telling their story than others, and that’s where I know that I can help.

For a guy who loves storytelling, the idea of working for an organization with locations nationwide is a dream job, because you’ll literally never run out of content to share. The inherit similarities between chapters from state to state, or time zone to time zone, provide potential for magical, world-changing stories that people love to consume.

New mediums like Periscope, SnapChat and Meerkat leverage video to allow us to tell stories in ways previous generations could’ve never imagined. (We will, of course, not abandon the “old” Twitters and Facebooks of the world, but work to build seamless, cross-platform messaging.) And with a collaborative, strategic approach, we will deliver, with a unified voice, impactful anecdotes from chapters big and small.

Many of you saw first-hand the power of these new platforms from my personal channels; imagine the gravitas and impact we can have with a carefully thought-out strategy, plus the built-in influence of a national organization. (And imagine how much more efficient my efforts will be when I’m not sleeping in my car every other night :-D).

I put in a colossal amount of effort this summer to make this trip a reality, and to inspire volunteerism on my own.

It was fun, but now it’s time to think bigger. I want to bring that passion, that energy, than enthusiasm to a national office. I want to deliver results. I want to help you move the needle. I’m rested (finally), relaxed and ready.

So — how can YOU help me get there? If you thought my visit was valuable, you can write me a LinkedIn recommendation. If you work for a national organization, you can help me get this message in front of decision-makers. And, please, you can always keep in touch — I love texting and keeping up with how things are going at your organization. My cell is (516) 818-3040.

– – – – –

I know this email is a bit long, so I’ll be quick with the other news: I wanted to sincerely thank Bill Michener (Lincoln, Neb.), Robin McHaelen (Hartford, Conn.), Louis Kines (Charleston, S.C.), Wes Davis (Wilmington, Del.) and Charlene Blackstone (Las Vegas) for participating in last week’s five-part series of Blab discussions. If you’d like to check out the replays — each one lasts about 45 min.; Bill’s was a bit shorter — just click on the person’s name. (Note: I don’t have any additional Blabs scheduled right now, but if YOU are interested in doing one with me, let me know and we’ll make it happen!)

If you don’t already ‘like’ my Facebook page, please do — you can revisit photos and videos from all 50 states. Looking for content ideas? Feel free to re-share the content from my visit — you can mention that the trip was successfully completed! It’s also likely I have additional photos from my time at your organization — if you email me, I can look and see if I have any additional stuff you can use.

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My Mentor, Every Day, Dressed up like a Giant Bird

Mentors do make a difference. Read about Melissa Reese’s mentor and how he changed her life in this article just published in The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring:

PR & Social Media Specialist at Sylvia Marketing & Public Relations

An Unlikely #Mentor
Sep 1, 2015

My mentor was someone on the fringe of the field that I thought I wanted to work in, and happened to be employed by my favorite sports team. He was disorganized, but knowledgeable. He was a personality that stole the show and could command a room. He was still young enough for me to relate to, but old enough to be wise and give great advice.

My mentor, every day, dressed up like a giant bird. sports bird for blog

Drexel University’s Co-Op Program gives students the opportunity to complete three internships before graduation. I landed my first co-op – at 19- in the NFL, through this partnership. Working in the team marketing department for 20 hours a week, this job was to simply help the mascot schedule community appearances and act as a handler. Occasionally, I drove a marked company vehicle.

From day 1, the man behind the mask told me that a pro front office (and sports in general) was not a place I should be if I wasn’t ready to work hard. He had seen too many interns come and go looking for new best friends, QB husbands, and a chance at their 15 minutes. Interns were restricted to minimal time and interaction with other departments; and limited opportunities for advancement.

Despite no promises, I dove headfirst into this internship. I didn’t know what it meant to have a great work ethic, but apparently he saw it in me. Then, he gave me an opportunity unlike any other. He welcomed me into a boys club: I became part of the game day intern team, worked summer training camps, and all special marketing related events. He constantly introduced me to co-workers and high level executives teaching me to network like a pro – today, these connections work in professional sports all over the country.  I was given an opportunity that could be taken away with one mistake, and I wasn’t willing to let that happen. My simple 6 month co – op turned itself into a spot on my resume that spans four years.

I took away a lifetime of memories and friends – but there are three things that have stayed with me from this unique experience. Above all else, my mentor taught me:

Act like you belong: Every job has its rock stars and every industry its heavy hitters. Keeping your cool and not becoming a #fangirl in high pressure situations is key to blending in. Walking the same halls as Pro-Bowl bound receivers and Hall of Fame level running backs presented situations where acting the wrong way, or saying the wrong thing could place your job in jeopardy.
My mentor first tested my ability to adapt one day by introducing me to a 6’8″ offensive tackle. I passed.

Dress for the job you want, not the job you have: So… in a bird suit? Not quite. My mentor constantly reminded me that if I looked and acted like “just an intern,” that is how I would be treated. Instead of thinking of myself as “just an intern,” I made sure that my appearance in the office was of the same level as others in the department. Sure, we had our days outside where a team polo and khakis were acceptable, but this job gave me my first taste of dressing for a respectable professional office environment.

Be absolutely fearless in everything you do: When you dress like a giant bird, you dance like EVERYONE is watching. Climb to the highest part of the stadium and trust that the zip-line will control your flight. Take a risk and throw the ball deep on 4th and 26 (you might just get lucky) or go for the extra 2 points even though it was blocked on the last attempt. No matter where my office is now, I constantly remind myself of the actions taken by my mentor during my internships and let go of the fear that holds others back.

melissaI can honestly say I would not be the person I am today without the guidance and experience I received during my very first internship, from an incredible mentor. The doors were opened here because someone believed in me, and allowed me to learn from the best.

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Discussing Politics Contributes to Positive Youth Development

From our friends at the Chronicle of Evidence Based Mentoring comes this post from Professor Connie Flanagan:

“Editor’s note: We are delighted to have a guest commentary Professor Connie Flanagan. Professor Flannagan of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  She is the author of the excellent new book, Teenage Citizens: The Political Theories of the Young (Harvard University Press).We asked her whether mentors and mentees should ever discuss politics. 

“It is very appropriate for mentors and mentees to discuss politics. And not just every four years.  National elections are moments in history when political issues and the direction we want the country to go are on the minds of most Americans.  But it is everyday, not every four years, that young people crave discussions of meaningful topics – and politics is one of them. In the past twenty years I have asked youth as young as 9 and as old as 20 and from a wide range of social and ethnic backgrounds to share their thoughts about political topics – such as what democracy means to them, how they feel about immigration, or why inequality exists. No matter what the topic, those youth who discuss current events and politics with adults know more about and can discuss the issue from different perspectives. This is important because people who see issues from different perspectives tend to be more open-minded, tolerant, and less extreme in their positions.

“If a mentee raises a political issue, the mentor should ask the young person what his/her opinion is on the issue and why. This helps the youth to clarify where s/he stands, what s/he understands about the topic or might still need to learn. Listening to the mentee’s views also sends a message that his/her opinions are worthy of respect, that adults should pay attention and take those ideas seriously.

“Mentors should share their point of view as well. Regardless of whether they agree or disagree, as long as the exchange is respectful, political discussion is a way to deepen understanding. When mentors discuss political issues with their mentees, they can show that disagreements don’t have to divide us and that politics doesn’t have to be bitter. Citizens can work together, despite our differences. But listening and compromise take practice and politics often engages our passions. If we want the younger generation to be informed and to vote when they’re old enough, we should engage with them in civil discussions of politics and current events when they are young.

“Democracy is not the business of government.  Democracy is the power of people to author their lives, to decide together what kind of society they want to live in. And young people should have a voice in that discussion.”

Categories: Academic, Commentary, Mentoring Ideas | 1 Comment