How To Mentor Someone in Poverty

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If you or your team currently provides cash, food, shelter or transportation assistance for families in poverty, then you know how vital such a ministry can be.

What’s next? Recently, more faith-based communities have turned to counseling or mentoring as a strategy to build on already existing ministries of providing food, clothing and shelter.

Ruby Payne, author of Bridges Out of Poverty, compares mentoring to accompanying someone on a great journey. For instance, Big Brothers/Big Sisters volunteers meet three times per month with at-risk youth over a period of many years. Over the long haul, a wise mentor can provide the knowledge, encouragement and friendship needed when someone is trying to build bridges out of poverty.

According to Payne, we are each part of economic groups—poverty, middle class and wealth—which have their “hidden rules.” These are unspoken cues or habits that are largely taken for granted. For example, a hidden rule of poverty regarding money says that it is to be used primarily for entertainment and to strengthen relationships, not to achieve security. In another example, a hidden rule of the middle class sees love as conditional and based largely on achievement, not relationships. Mentors work with their mentees, or protégés, to understand any hidden assumptions that may create obstacles to progress.

Mentoring is not just for individuals, however.

Circles USA drew its inspiration from Payne’s approach, but developed far more of a group model.   The Circles approach relies on matching low income families with three or four middle class volunteers, called Allies, who promise to help families become financially self sufficient through help with budgeting, advice on navigating the bureaucracy, and emotional and friendship support. This holistic approach uses weekly meetings of peers, Allies and community members to reinforce support, and also monthly “Big View” meetings which focus on public policy changes required to move more persons out of poverty.

Here are suggestions for making the most of the mentoring relationship, taken from Bridges Out of Poverty.[1]

Ten Laws of Mentoring

  1. Allow sufficient time and a good environment to encourage honest discussion.
  2. Help the protégé translate his or her values into real action.
  3. Foster independence through establishing clear boundaries.
  4. Be responsible to them, not for them. (No “savior” or “mother,” please)
  5. Share your failures, as well as your successes.
  6. Prepare specific objectives for your relationship.
  7. Enable small successes.
  8. In offering direction, use the adult voice and “I” language.
  9. Let the protégé own the problem by offering possible solutions (no direct advice).
  10. Don’t forget to laugh and have fun.

[1]Ruby Payne et. al., Bridges Out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities (Highland, TX: Aha! Process, Inc., 2001,96-99.

Source:  Ron Mader, Dec. 8, 2011.  Flickr Creative Commons.

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