Between work, school, friends, and family, it can be hard to find time to help other people. The time it takes to figure out where you want to volunteer, sign up, transport yourself to the location, and then actually do the work can sometimes feel overwhelming. But here’s the thing — there are ways to give back that don’t involve you having to leave your home. I know! You can help people from the comfort of your couch with an ingenious thing called online mentoring.
Online mentoring simply means you help people in need via your computer. You don’t have to travel to do it, and you can actively change a person’s life in your spare time. It makes volunteering easy, fun, and completely doable.
Edward Meng, a San Francisco-based transportation coordinator, shares what it’s like to mentor high-school students online in his free time. Here’s the full lowdown on what exactly online mentoring is, why it’s so important, and how helping others has actually helped him, too!
“I volunteer as a ‘virtual coach’ with an organization called ScholarMatch that matches volunteers with high achieving students across the country to help them navigate the complicated college admissions process.
ScholarMatch offers a lot of support. We have an annual meeting in San Francisco where all the virtual coaches come together to meet each other and share stories. We attend special sessions on financial aid, coaching and interviewing, working with undocumented students, and other important information. They also send out newsletters, have a Facebook group where we can ask questions, and maintain an online resource center for other questions and information.
I’ve been paired with students in California, in the Deep South, and in the Midwest. These students have often been lower-income, immigrant students who would be the first ones in their families to go to college.”
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“This cause is so important to me because, as a child of immigrants, education has been crucial in my life. My parents were the first in their family to arrive in America. They didn’t have a large family here already, didn’t have a built-in community, and had to get by on their own. They worked odd jobs in Chinese restaurants, travel agencies, and other places. My parents always impressed on me the importance of education because a job is temporary… you can always lose it. However, if you get an education, you’ll be able to support yourself in many different ways. Once you have your education or degree, nobody can take that away from you.
When I was a senior in high school, my family didn’t necessarily fully understand how the college-admissions process worked. I relied heavily on my high school counselor to find and apply to scholarships, and to learn how to ask for letters of recommendation. My counselor also explained how to fill out financial aid forms and helped me individualize my personal statement.”
“I wanted to be an online mentor to pay forward the help I’d received growing up, and when I learned about ScholarMatch, I decided to commit to volunteering helping kids with similar backgrounds.
Sharing in the joys of my students when they end up getting accepted into and ultimately attending college is beyond amazing. It also lets me see personally into the thoughts and minds of the generation younger than mine, which makes me feel more connected to humanity. Ultimately, these students are our future leaders, and I’m optimistic that they’ll be great assets to society. It’s a fantastic feeling.”
“The most challenging part of online mentoring with ScholarMatch is that I don’t necessarily have all the answers to the questions and issues that come up my students’ lives. Some of them have personal family and financial difficulties that they confide in me. Others have issues due to hostility towards their communities. I think one of the most important aspects of being a coach is empathizing with your students as people. I still help them keep focused on their ultimate goal, but with the recognition that our work is taking place within the larger context of their lives and struggles. In these cases, I try to remain empathetic and supportive and recognize these students as people with competing needs. I’ve learned sometimes the best thing to do is to be honest and upfront about their challenges. Life will always be full of challenges, and it’s how we respond to them that speak to our character and resilience.”
Learning to Be an Online Mentor
“If you want to be a mentor online, especially if you are mentoring younger students, I would say to be extremely flexible and empathetic to how they communicate. I’ve learned they’re much more comfortable texting than over email, for example. They’ll oftentimes text me a series of emojis and/or a GIF and that’s totally OK. It doesn’t mean their dedication and passion are any less!
If you’d like to become involved in ScholarMatch, you can find out more info on their website. If you’re looking for another online mentoring opportunity, check out the National Mentoring Resource Center and ICouldBe.org.