This blog post was contributed by Muthu Meenakshisundaram, Communications Intern.
Working with New Voters, a national organization with an ambitious mission, can be daunting to high school students at first. That is, until they meet their mentor. A New Voters mentor isn’t a supervisor, an instructor, or a trainer — they’re a guide lighting the way on the journey of civic engagement.
College mentors are typically connected with a few high school students across the nation in order to help them plan and execute voter registration drives. A mentor’s chief purpose is to help students overcome any obstacles they may encounter. New Voters mentors encounter all sorts of students who attend all types of schools from nearly every corner of the United States. They’ve also solved many different types of problems and dealt with different school administrations. But mentors don’t have to know the solution to every problem or the answer to every question! Mentors from all across the nation connect with each other regularly; another mentor will surely be able to share their knowledge. Armed with this collective wisdom, mentors can help students weave their way through challenges and make their voter registration drives happen!
Another important aspect of a mentor’s role is to nudge students along and make sure that they’re making progress. I can’t tell you how many projects I’ve gotten super hyped about and then abandoned. In my freshman year of high school, I decided that I wanted to write an op-ed and submit it to a national paper. But I ran into a few problems, including the fact that I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to write about, nor did I have the discipline to produce several drafts. To avoid such pitfalls, mentors check in with their mentees periodically. They’ll ensure that students are not just handing out flyers and putting up posters but actually registering classmates.
The last important function of a mentor is reflection and recordkeeping. Upon the completion of the voter registration drive, the mentor will check in with the mentee to discuss what went well, what could have gone better, and how the mentee feels at the end of the process. It’s always important to look back and think about lessons learned, so that we can carry them with us to future endeavors. And, of course, mentors also collect registration data and report back to the national team.
Let’s forget the technical stuff for a moment: A mentor helps to connect students to the New Voters community. As the student gets to know them, the community gets just a little bit closer. For example, Christianna Kosta from New Hampshire recently worked with her mentor, Gabby Farina, and another mentee, Max Beckerman, to create social media accounts for New Voters in New Hampshire. By working collaboratively with a mentor, Christianna and Max were able to begin connecting their state’s civically engaged youth in an original way. This work would be admirable under normal circumstances, but it’s worthy of even more praise during these socially distanced times. With the vast majority of America staying at home these past few months, a sense of community is more than welcome.
A mentor helps students solve problems, stay focused, and enjoy their journey to a successful voter registration drive at their school. Through this experience, both mentors and mentees forge new friendships, learn new things, and help make their towns — and our nation — better places.