How mentoring kids changed my life

Summer youth program had powerful lessons for counselors, too

By Nathan Salinas
Nathan is a student at Latitude High in Oakland.

Sitting in a hot, humid room filled with kids who were cursing, running around, and screaming was not my ideal summer.


Nathan Salinas

Yet here I was, trying to quiet these kids down. It was my first week at my summer mentorship program, “Brothers on the Rise.” We had a training the week before and it was more than I expected.

A lot of people don’t realize how much mentors can impact kids’ lives. I used to think I’d been through a lot in life, but after hearing these kids’ stories I realized I may take some things for granted.

The hardships I’ve been through don’t compare to those of the kids I mentor. In 2017, 1,856 African-Americans were incarcerated in Alameda County. A lot of kids spoke of how their fathers are in jail, while others shared how they’ve lost close family members to gun violence.

These kids may not have a lot of positive mentors in Oakland. So even just playing basketball with a kid can impact him or her in a positive way.

A lot of the students we mentor don’t do much over the summer but play video games. At this program, we play outside a lot while learning about what a respectable man should be.

“What do you want to see change in Oakland?” was a question we posed to the kids. One kid responded, “The streets because some people drive dangerous.” Other people talked about violence in their neighborhoods.

We then got to talk to a city council member. The kids brought up the issues that were important to them and got to hear some solutions. This gave the kids an opportunity to think about their surroundings and what they want to change.

Youth mentorship is important because the youth can take the lessons we teach and apply them to their lives. According to a study from Boston University, when reporting about the effects of mentorship on youth, “most reported they were better planners, organizers, and problem solvers.”

For example, over the summer, a lot of kids would resort to fighting to solve their problems. But over time we taught them to settle arguments with words. We tried to show them not everything needs to be solved with violence. Also, there are a lot of drugs and bad influences in kids’ lives, and we try to curb that through mentoring.

According to Youthmentor.org, kids who experience mentorship are “46 percent less likely than their peers to use illegal drugs.” We taught the students we mentored about the effects of using drugs on minors, showing them that drugs aren’t as “fun” or “cool” as they might be portrayed. This was just part of the work we did over the summer.

According to the American Community Survey, “42.7 percent of families in Oakland are single-parent households.” This means a lot to me. Coming from a single parent household myself, I realize the importance of mentors and I am glad I got to be a mentor to kids like me.

This summer changed me. I learned a lot about myself while learning about and helping others. I moved out of my comfort zone and made new friendships and memories I will never forget.

“You coming next summer?” fills the air on the last day of the program, because everyone wants to keep in touch with each other. We’ve established a brotherhood.


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