Who says you can’t hold a virtual conference with all of the bells and whistles of a traditional in-person event? A tried-and-true convener of mentoring and youth development leaders and practitioners, MENTOR New York hosted its annual Mentoring Matters Conference virtually for the second year in a row on April 1st, 2022 with approximately 150 attendees signing on remotely to engage in a community of practice and learn from presentations centered around the theme “Back to the Basics.” According to feedback from attendees, despite its title, the conference was anything but basic.
We sat down with two conference attendees to discover just what THEIR top takeaways were from this year’s conference. Here’s what Dan Gonzalez, Programs Associate at Minds Matter of New York City, and Zoë Auerbach, CHIME and Young Leaders Program Manager at Empire State Youth Orchestra, shared.
1. Asset-based language is key
It’s a basic concept, but needs to be said: Words Matter! Making the conscious decision to use asset-based language is key to shaping perceptions of young people and building strong and successful relationships with them. It is important to create a safe and comfortable space for youth, and one major way we can do that is by carefully and intentionally using inclusive and equitable language.
“The presentation [Equity in Mentoring Relationships: Program Practitioner Strategies for Building Inclusive Communities] about different approaches to equitable language, and how to deliberately use language in an empowering and inclusive way was one of my favorites of the conference… Everything she [presenter Chotsani William West] said was so well put and it really helped to orient my thinking about this topic..”—Zoë Auerbach
2. Remember the importance of listening
A simple and basic thing we can all do for young people is always take the time to seriously listen to them and let them voice their concerns and opinions. It is important that the youth in our lives feel both seen and heard within the relationships we have with them.
“We can’t address the needs of the community if we are not listening to the community.”— Dan Gonzalez
3. Prioritize youth voice and choice
Do you ever feel hesitant to give a young person a voice of their own and allow them to make decisions on their own behalf? It’s easy to feel as if we know what's best for them and make decisions without asking the young people impacted. Consider what it might look like to allow them to have the opportunity to think about a situation, share their thoughts, and make choices for themselves.
“If you have a certain amount of time to make a decision, you’re either going to be inclusive, or you’re not going to be inclusive in inviting people to share their opinions. So if it’s a long-term sort of thing, you could send out surveys or maybe organize a focus group. But if it’s something that you need to decide tomorrow, who are you asking? We need to be conscious of how we include our youth, and what context we give them when it comes to decision-making. It’s important to be transparent with them and to give them the freedom to make decisions… Treat them like adults, because they are.”—Dan Gonzalez
“I felt as if what was said during the conference was so validating for us to have outside sources saying things about how important it is for organizations to prioritize youth voice and choice, and so many other things that really resonated as well.”—Zoë Auerbach
4. Model behaviors
It is so important to remember that the young people in our lives very often look up to us and follow the example that we set. What’s the last piece of advice you gave to a young person? Is it an action or practice that you have taken yourself? As Dan points out, you can role model positive attitudes and behaviors in your own life in order to set a good example for young people.
“The biggest thing that I took away from the keynote panel was the idea that we, as practitioners, have to practice self-advocacy and self-care ourselves in order to properly and effectively model it for our students. It's important to practice what you preach.”—Dan Gonzalez
5. Create opportunities for youth advocacy and self-advocacy
Creating opportunities for youth advocacy was another heavily discussed topic during this year's Mentoring Matters Conference. By creating these opportunities, we empower our youth to stand up for themselves and voice their own opinions about the programs and services that are designed to benefit them.
“It’s about advocating for your needs and being able to center your own needs and the needs of others... figuring out what you need and then advocating for yourself.”—Zoë Auerbach
“I think that something that is often overlooked is giving students a say in the programs that benefit them… I think that it’s really important to give youth a voice, and this conference was definitely a reminder for me that we need to incorporate our students’ voices in our projects within our organization.”—Dan Gonzalez
We’ve learned that the “basics'' are anything but basic. Building strong foundations with best practices in place will strengthen any mentoring initiative and help to ensure long-term sustainability for a program.
Both Dan and Zoe are members of MENTOR New York’s Network and engaged in the 2022 Change-Makers Fellowship to enhance quality within their organizations and deepen their role as leaders in the New York Mentoring Movement. YOU can become a Network member today by filling out our interest form or signing up for any of MENTOR New York’s free training or events.
About the Interviewees
Dan Gonzalez is a Programs Associate at Minds Matter of New York City. Minds Matter connects driven and determined students from low-income families with the people, preparation, and possibilities to succeed in college, create their future, and change the world.
As a first-generation high school and college graduate, Dan strives to lift other first-generation and low-income students navigate college and career. Through his role at Minds Matter NYC, he spearheads the organization's curriculum development and volunteer management of the college advising and college success programs.
Zoë Auerbach is the CHIME and Young Leaders Program Manager at Empire State Youth Orchestra. She has enjoyed a varied and full career as a violinist/violist, teacher, and arts administrator. She completed undergraduate work in violin and viola performance, string pedagogy and philosophy, and earned her MA in philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center, where her work focused on exploring the philosophical and ethical considerations at the nexus of epistemology, sociology, and policy, as pertains to paradigms of education. Zoë has performed throughout the US, South America, and Canada with many groups, including The Orchestra of Northern New York, Orquesta Sinfónica de Santo Domingo, and The West Side Chamber Orchestra of NYC, and, most recently, for many shows at The Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck.
A dedicated and passionate teacher, Zoë completed her Suzuki teacher training at The School for Strings in NYC. She maintains a large violin and viola studio in Tivoli, NY, and is the founding executive director of Harmony Project Hudson, a tuition-free music program aimed at helping young people in Hudson, NY reach their fullest potential as individuals and citizens through the powerful connections forged in the study of music.