"Surround yourself only with people who are going to lift you higher." -- Oprah Winfrey
It’s a job that often comes without pay, monetarily that is, but is rewarded when you're able to watch the person become wiser, push through adversity, and succeed.
I’ve been blessed with a few outstanding mentors that have helped me in various areas of my life, but the recent loss of a close mentor has caused me to reflect on this important role and the impact a good mentor can have.
A truly great mentor is hard to find, difficult to part with, and impossible to forget.
Our community lost an outstanding mentor last week, when Marva Gill passed away after a courageous battle with cancer. Marva served as a 4-H agent for 32 years, touching the lives of hundreds of youth involved in the 4-H program each year. I met Marva for the first time when I was nine years old. My mother grew up in 4-H, and as soon as I celebrated my ninth birthday, she promptly walked me into the county extension office, introduced herself, and enrolled me in 4-H. I’m sure Marva thought, “oh great, here’s another one of those crazy mothers who will sign her kid up for everything.” (and truth be told, Mom tried!) I participated in activities for the full length of my 4-H eligibility, gaining new friends, leadership skills, and learning life lessons along the way. In every activity, whether we were preparing for a monthly club meeting, practicing for a demonstration contest, or sweltering in the sun at horse camp, she was always there with a smile and a word of encouragement.
Not only did she strive to help educate and engage youth within the 4-H program, she recognized those who had leadership potential and helped them to develop and embrace those qualities, even for those of us who would rather just be a part of the crowd. For a shy, young girl who hated being in the spotlight, let alone speaking in front of people, the challenge of being a youth county representative to an area council or leading a workshop during day camp could be overwhelming. But I did it, and was able to grow from those experiences, with the continuous nudges and encouragement from my mentor.
Eventually, my 4-H eligibility expired and I could no longer participate in the programs and competitions as a 4-Her. This, however, didn't get me off the hook. Marva quickly encouraged me to become a member of the county 4-H council, yet another leadership position. Throughout those meetings, we were able to recognize and address weaknesses in the programs, seek out new opportunities for the youth, and organize fundraising campaigns to help fund new programs. (I'll never forget the truck pull fundraiser we helped with...but that story is for a different day.) Looking back, the time I spent on as a member of the 4-H council allowed Marva to continue to fine tune my leadership abilities and prepare me for handling tough, real-life scenarios later. That's an attribute of a great mentor - investing in someone and helping them to become better at what they do, not just for their benefit, but for the benefit of others.
Mentors also often see the bigger picture, and recognize challenges as a chance for growth. Marva was open minded, and didn't rush to find an immediate solution to a problem. She valued the input of others, considered all the options, and always worked with people develop a resolution. If it was a problem of your own, she was good about listening and providing feedback or suggestions for how you might approach a solution.
I will always be grateful for the countless life lessons learned and the experiences I probably wouldn't have otherwise had, thanks to Marva and the 4-H program. I hope that in the future I can offer the same mentorship to someone else and pass on the skills and knowledge that she helped me acquire.
If you're blessed with a great mentor, be sure to call them or send them a note and thank them for what they do. If you don't have a mentor, find one. I guarantee that if you find a good one, you won't regret it and you'll become a better person because of them. Lastly, if you have the chance to help someone else out and potentially be a mentor to them, do it. It will give you the opportunity to impact so much more than that individual for the good.