Why Mentoring Is Worth the Commitment
When Tommy Pan came to New York City three years ago, he quickly got involved as a mentor with one of Hope for New York’s affiliates, Shiloh NYC. Shiloh is a Christian not-for-profit dedicated to equipping New York City at-risk youth and their families with tools that build hope, confidence, and the skills to attain their goals.
We asked Tommy to share with us why he’s been so committed as a mentor at Shiloh—what makes it worthwhile to him and what he’s learned. Read what he told us below:
I could give you a cliché answer as to why I’ve been mentoring youth for the past three years—something like, “I want to give back to the community because of all that God has blessed me with” or “I want to be His hands and feet” or “We’re called to be salt and light.” But to be completely honest, I’ve been committed to mentoring youth because I never had it growing up.
Our teenage years are arguably the most formative of our lives, and it’s not difficult for me to picture myself in the shoes of the youth in front of me. Thinking back on my own high school and college days where I didn’t have any sort of spiritual, academic, or professional guidance evokes some unpleasant memories for me.
Of course, my upbringing is quite the opposite from the youth I work with now. I grew up in a stable home with two parents who had steady jobs, and I never had to worry about whether or not the bills would be paid or if there would be dinner on the table. Still, hiding just a few layers deeper were the same insecurities and anxieties that most young people share.
Initially, I had this desire to “preach” to the youth with the newfound maturity and wisdom I had gained since becoming a Christian in college. I yearned to inundate them with relevant truth pertinent to their situations. Really, it was a way to feel validated in my personal growth. (I eventually did have the opportunity to create lesson plans and lead productive group discussions). However, I soon learned that it’s not ultimately about how creative or demonstrative we can be with our lesson plans, but it’s about establishing that sacred element of trust. And the only way to build trust is through commitment.
It’s hard to believe that I’ve been a part of Shiloh for essentially all of my three years in New York City. Usually, I try to find the “perfect situation” if I’m going to devote my time on a consistent basis. But with Shiloh, I didn’t deliberate at all. It felt like a natural fit.
Interestingly, on the surface, I don’t look like I belong. I’m not African-American or Hispanic. I’m not from the Bronx. It was a given that I was going to graduate college and find a job. However, the kids accepted and embraced me despite our differences. That’s what is special about Shiloh. In the kids’ neighborhoods back home, their cynical guard is up and they don’t trust a soul outside of their tiny circles. But inside the walls of Shiloh, they can be open and free.
I distinctly recall a phase about a year ago when I felt an uncomfortable, creeping feeling that I didn’t belong. I’m not connecting with the kids. They’re not receptive to me. What am I doing here? Upon further reflection, I realized it’s not about “fitting in” with them in order to “reach them.” God simply calls us to be present and available.
There’s a famous saying, usually used in regards to sports, that the most important ability is availability. I recognized that I didn’t need to deliver life-changing lesson plans or bend and twist to fit in with the kids. I just needed to be me and to be committed. Over time, the discomfort waned and I was “back in.”
This leads me to the greatest lesson I’ve learned in Shiloh: Commitment, consistency, and authenticity carry exponentially more weight than some ephemeral, supernatural connection. We are truly only called to be available and to give it our all (1 Corinthians 10:31)—from there, God will do the rest.