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How to fit mentoring into your work life balance

Earlier this week, I learned about a high school in Fort Lauderdale for teen moms. In that school, there are 13 years old who already have several kids. What does the world hold for these mothers and their children? It could hold lots of opportunity if only one of those moms had someone to mentor her.

But how in the world do workers fit mentoring into our overloaded schedules? I took on the topic in my Miami Herald column today. I hope it gives all of you some inspiration. You can make a big difference in a young person's life.

Jodi and Dorothy

(Above: Dorothy Eisenberg and Jodi Cross) 

For professionals,

mentoring is worth time,effort




Though it's far from the glamorous offices of Essence magazine, Susan L. Taylor maneuvers through the hallways and bureaucracy at The Seagull School in Fort Lauderdale just as easily as she had the executive suite she once occupied. She has a strong message for the teen mothers who attend the public high school: ``We will find you mentors.''

By the time Taylor boards a flight back to New York, she will send the signal loud and clear to the South Florida business community: ``We are in a state of emergency.''

Today, American workers are stressed by an ever-present feeling of overwhelm. They are worried about job security, keeping businesses afloat and carrying heavy workloads. While most people feel they don't have a second to spare, Taylor wants to convince them that mentoring is not a luxury.

``The recession set back everything, even mentoring,'' says Taylor, who came to deliver her message to more than 200 women this week at The Commonwealth Institute South Florida. Now CEO of the National Care Mentoring Movement, she adds, ``We have to help people who are struggling.''

Jodi Cross, executive director of TCI, said her organization, founded to encourage women to mentor each other, has experienced the same drop-off.

``People are pulling back and hunkering down.'' Yet, Cross says her members agree with Taylor's message. ``We all realize we need to help one another whether it is kids or other adults.''

Nationwide, the need for mentoring is glaring. High school students, particularly males, are dropping out. College students are graduating with high debt and no jobs. And young workers are stymied in workplaces that have cut back on training to help them grow. Only 17 percent of companies polled by the Society of Human Resource Management on their 2010 benefits reported still having a formal mentorship program. Fortunately, some professionals are finding ways to juggle mentoring and other obligations.

Dorothy Eisenberg, a partner with Gerson, Preston, Robinson and Co. in Miami Beach, mentors accounting students at the University of Miami. She will invite students to firm functions, community or professional organization events to see networking in action. ``It's an easy thing,'' she says. She also talks with her mentees regularly on the phone or invites them to her office. ``Most mentoring programs can be done in flexible way. When you are successful, you give back so others can become successful.''

Tanya Blake, a guidance counselor at The Seagull School, suggests busy professionals consider group mentoring, where a firm adopts a classroom and professionals take turns going to the school and showing students different skills.

A group of Miami businesswomen have taken another route. They started a power lunch series last year that meets monthly in the intimate restaurant at the JW Marriott on Brickell. Each time, they invite a nonprofit leader and a female University of Miami college student to join them.

``These young women get to make introduction, hear the exchange of career advice and be a part of the conversation in a relaxed business setting,'' says Sissy DeMaria, co-owner of Kreps DeMaria public relations in Coral Gables. ``We get to have a great business discussion over a leisurely lunch while we are mentoring.''

Mentors, like teachers, can help guide people at any life stage. Robbie Bell, a real estate agent with EWM, reaches out to young African-American women new to their careers and to South Florida. She hosts a monthly event where she introduces newcomers to local businesswomen. She encourages her mentees to exchange business cards and call the women they meet when they need help.

``I don't have the time. I have to make the time,'' Bell says of her mentoring role. But, she says, ``I don't think I would be the person I am today without the women in this city reaching out to me.''

In another approach, the Florida Association of Women Lawyers has come up with a speed mentoring event. Law students and legal professionals mix and mingle in speed-dating fashion. The event kicks off the organization's Mentoring Program, and creates mentor/mentee pairs who work together for the remainder of the school year.

Whether you mentor colleagues, business owners or students through formal or informal programs, research shows mentoring makes a difference in someone's success. Jennifer Valoppi has seen that firsthand. She founded Women of Tomorrow, a South Florida program for women professionals to mentor at-risk high school girls.

Valoppi structured the program to be convenient for the 250 working women who signed up as mentors -- placing them in high schools near their workplaces and giving them the option to go in person one hour a month or talk to a mentee over the phone.

``We knew we couldn't put them in the position where it was so time-consuming that they would be jeopardizing their jobs,'' Valoppi says.

Earlier this year, Valoppi surveyed 400 of the organization's at-risk mentees and discovered they had a 92 percent high school graduation rate. In follow-up interviews, the organization learned 99 percent of its girls are either attending college or plan on attending in the near future. Valoppi now plans to take her successful program into more states.

Valoppi says she understands why people struggling through difficult economic times might show reluctance to the commitment involved in mentoring. But like Taylor, she's convinced it's critical to our country's welfare. ``I honestly believe if you reach out to help someone else, you will both elevate yourself and the other person.''