Mike Pusich shared with EYN why mentoring matters from his perspective. He has been an active mentor since May 2021, and has been working with his current mentee since October 2023. His mentee brings lots of energy to their weekly meetings and loves playing hockey and is teaching Pusich the rules of the game.
Pusich was inspired to be a mentor after seeing young people in the valley struggle with anxiety and depression from academic, social, or other pressures. “I have always enjoyed coaching so the idea of helping a young person in our community by being there for them in a positive way was appealing to me” he said.
Spending time together away from the classroom, playground or other stress inducing environments is something Pusich’s current and past mentees always look forward to. The mentee defines how they want to spend time together, which is often as simple as engaging in casual conversation while doing a fun activity in a safe place. His mentee knows he is the most important person in the room to Pusich when they are together.
Pusich benefits from being a mentor because it always feels good to give back to our community. He said, “You learn to empathize and think in ways that perhaps you have not before. You become a better listener and learn to be flexible and adapt. You may even learn a few news skills along the way like learning how to play chess!”
Pusich once had a mentee in middle school he would play chess with in the library. Over time and perhaps drawn by the snacks on his table, other students started to stop by to observe the game or ask for a snack. Gradually, more people would come by to chat and play a game. His mentee loved the new social interactions rooted in a common interest.
Unbeknownst to Pusich, his mentee later approached a school advisor and obtained approval to start an after-school chess club. The club met immediately following their session each week and it was eye opening to see the club start from nothing to 30 people playing chess, socializing, and having fun together. “I have no doubt our sessions in the library and the brief social interactions with his peers around chess helped launch the self-confidence to start the club,” Pusich said. This was a huge confidence builder for the mentee and helped forge many new friendships through a common interest in chess.
Every mentee is an individual and their challenges vary widely. In some cases, you may be helping a young person navigate their relationship with their ego or figuring out how to navigate a conflict on the playground or outside of school. Pusich said, “We are not their teacher, parent, or counsellor, but if they want to talk about something, having a trusted adult to talk to is incredibly valuable to the young person. In most cases, you are helping a mentee by simply spending time with them and listening.”
Pusich feels that young people in the valley need trusted adults in their life that can help build confidence and self-esteem. Empower Youth Network agrees! Mentoring is a simple way to give back and help nurture the success of our youth that only takes an hour or less per week during the school year. “You will learn and grow from every interaction and meet a ton of other inspiring mentors and school staff in the process,” Pusich said.
Each January, we come together as a community to support youth with National Mentoring Month. Today, January 17, is also International Mentoring Day. By harnessing our collective voice, we can raise awareness for how one conversation, one experience, and one mentor can change a young person’s life. Thanks to Mike Pusich and to all of the mentors in the valley making positive differences in their mentee’s lives.