This post has been co-authored by Eli A. Wolff, Partners for Youth with Disabilities, and Mary A. Hums, University of Louisville.
We celebrate International Mentoring Day on January 17 while honoring the legacy of Muhammad Ali on what would have been his 75th birthday. Reflecting on the power of mentoring and how it contributes to creating a better world is a useful exercise any day, but particularly on a day that acknowledges a great man and his great life.
Mentoring teaches us to lift each other up, creating powerful positive long-lasting relationships along the way. Mentoring reinforces the benefits of enhancing the lives of all people, and can be especially uplifting for individuals who are isolated, excluded or at the margins. Mentoring has been and will continue to contribute toward fostering development, peace and human rights. Mentoring can build a more inclusive and better world for all.
Mentoring is a powerful tool for raising awareness and understanding diversity and inclusion, helping us to recognize the importance of advocacy and being advocates for ourselves and others. Mentoring, whether formal or informal, reinforces the power of relationships and contributes to creating a better world.
Mentoring relationships help us to broaden our lens for diversity and inclusion, allowing us to see others as people first while moving beyond labels and stereotypes. Mentors and mentees can help each other to redefine “normal” and move to “typical”, creating visibility for individuals or communities previously living as invisible to greater society. Through mentorship we can expand our minds, hearts and vision toward race, sexual orientation, disability, religion, culture. This is the power of mentoring. All are welcome in the mentoring space.
Mentoring also brings light to what it means to become an advocate for a better world. Together, mentors and mentees learn that being advocates for oneself and others embodies strength, leadership and empowerment while honoring different advocacy styles, approaches and tactics. Advocates can proactively mobilize and vocalize for change or can use role modeling in a subtle yet profound approach. Some advocates may be demanding and push for change, while others may pull for change simply by modeling through the lived example of their everyday lives.
The power of mentoring is transformative for individuals and communities. Both informal and formal mentoring challenge us to do better and be better in our personal lives and in our lives as citizens in our local, national and global communities. Formal mentoring gives us the structure to interact, engage, create and foster intentional relationships where people develop personally while achieving goal-oriented life outcomes. Informal mentoring is profound in the seamless way that knowledge, lessons and ideas can be transferred within and between generations. Informal mentoring is ongoing in our lives, an essential element of the human condition, manifesting itself through parents, friends, teachers, partners, grandparents, and community leaders.
Muhammad Ali lives on as a worldwide mentor. We can all continue to learn from his legacy of advancing diversity and inclusion, his strategic advocacy for a better world and how he engaged people globally through formal and informal mentoring. In the words of his widow, Lonnie Ali, “Mentors are special gifts to the world. They encourage, motivate, reinforce, and guide others to reach their own individual greatness. After all, mentors have the power to transform lives.”
Eli A. Wolff is a Mentoring Coordinator at Partners for Youth with Disabilities. Eli also serves as adviser for the Royce Fellowship for Sport and Society at Brown University and co-leads the Power of Sport Lab, a platform to fuel and magnify innovation, inclusion and social change through sport.
Eli’s past work has been at the intersection of research, education and advocacy in and through sport. In 2000, Eli helped to establish the ESPY Award for Best Male and Female Athlete with a Disability, and he organized the national disability sport organizations to support professional golfer Casey Martin in his successful case against the PGA before the U.S. Supreme Court. From 2003 to 2008, Eli led a global effort to include provisions addressing sport and recreation within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. More recently, Eli has helped to lead a national effort for the inclusion of student-athletes with disabilities in high school and college athletic opportunities.
Eli has also contributed to the international sport for development and social change community and has assisted with the global efforts for the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace on April 6 of each year. In 2016, Eli co-developed Mentoring for Change and the International Mentoring Day as an annual part of January’s National Mentoring Month, on Muhammad Ali’s birthday, January 17, as a collaboration between the National Mentoring Partnership, the Muhammad Ali Center and Epicenter Community.
Eli was a member of the United States Paralympic Soccer Team in the 1996 and 2004 Paralympic Games. Eli is a graduate of Brown University and has an MA in Sport Studies from the German Sport University of Cologne.
Stacey Schneiderman joined the PYD team in December 2016 as a part time Mentoring Specialist. She feels lucky to have been a mentor herself for the past 8 years. Stacey taught as a special educator for over 11 years ranging in settings from behavioral health hospitals, residential programs, and both urban and suburban public schools.
She is thrilled to bring her passion and experiences as both a teacher and mother of 3 to this role. She spends most of her with her family, per dog and turtle.
Mike Haydu joined the PYD team in January 2017 as a Mentoring Specialist. His work at PYD will focus on facilitating matches between mentors and youth ages 11-17. Prior to joining PYD, Mike worked at College Nannies and Tutors in a variety of roles, first as a nanny and a tutor and later in an administrative capacity, acting as a liaison between students and families and their tutors. Mike has spent the past seven years working and volunteering at The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford, Connecticut.
As a former counselor and tutor, Mike brings a passion for empowering young people to tackle the obstacles they face. Mike’s dedication to service comes from his Jesuit education (Fairfield Prep and the College of the Holy Cross), where he was taught to “be a man for others” and to “go above and beyond the call of duty.” His interest in working with young people stems from his experiences growing up the oldest of over 20 younger cousins and the impact he realized an older role model could have. He is excited to help facilitate these kinds of relationships for the youth and volunteers that work with PYD!
Derek Billings, Mentoring Specialist, started at PYD in early 2017. Derek has spent much of his time since 2010 working and volunteering for The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp (Ashford, Connecticut) as well as Camp Rising Sun (Colebrook, Connecticut) working with children with serious illnesses. He also worked as a paraprofessional at River Street School from 2013 to 2016, working very closely with children on the Autism spectrum. Before coming to PYD, he spent two years working odd jobs around Connecticut.
Derek is a certified high school basketball referee and has been doing middle school and high school games since 2005. He also spent some time as a youth baseball umpire in central Connecticut. Derek now spends much of his free time playing video games of all kind, watching sci-fi TV shows, as well as watching superhero movies and reading the comics they are based on.