Adult Mentors: Caring Comes First

 In Voices of Young People

Coaches, faith leaders, teachers, and others in positions of authority, take note: it’s not what you know, but how you show you care that matters most in the lives of young people. 

“What makes community for me is the leader or the person who is running it,” says Ellie Disselkoen, a senior at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL. Springtide interviewed Disselkoen about what characterizes the important communities in her life. 

Disselkoen cites three communities that are primary for her at this time: CrossFit, Bible study, and symphonic band. 

“The way CrossFit has been unique is it’s usually the same coach working with the same class every time. The coach gets to know the athletes, is supportive of everyone’s goals and helps direct them in making accomplishments. It’s like a mentorship, with the coach as a fitness as well as life mentor.” 

Ellie Disselkoen

Disselkoen said her CrossFit coach attends to members’ “physical side, mental side, and emotional side. If you’ve had a bad day, the coach asks, ‘What’s going on? Have you had a rough week?’” 

That same attitude of caring applies to other CrossFit members as well, she noted. “I felt comfortable to walk into this place and share my concerns because we were comrades who had consistently shown up to our class and worked together. We have conquered hard workouts together, relieved stress, and become more comfortable with talking through deeper things with one another.” 

She finds that same level of holistic care shown by the leader of her Bible study. “The host makes dinner, wants to get to know us, and cares about us. Anytime I need a meal, she says, ‘Let’s sit down, I have food in my fridge for you.’ If there is something difficult going on, she says, ‘Is there any way I can help you?’ For instance, she helped me pick up my first car, and store extra boxes in her basement over the summer. She shows me she’s someone who is willing to express her love. Nothing seems to be too much of a burden for her. She’s not just having the Bible study over for Sunday night, but she invites us into her house as capable adults who need some motherly care for a few hours. If I miss a meeting, she always says, ‘We missed you last week. How you doing? You all right?’ and is able to empathize in a way that is nonjudgmental, like she is willing to give of herself if need be.” 

“I didn’t always find that in other faith communities,” Disselkoen added. 

Disselkoen describes her symphonic band community as “fun and unique. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We work hard, but we’re able to work together and engage in humorous conversations with our director. He only wants the best for us and doesn’t work ‘at’ us but ‘with’ us. His goal is to help us feel comfortable to be ourselves and encourage us to grow as musicians. He celebrates those who have the solo parts, the group parts, the awesome percussion flair, as well as the obviously challenging sections.”  

Disselkoen noted all three of these adult leaders she cited do things intentionally to build a sense of community within the group, such as through community service projects, group dinners, or social activities outside the usual routines of fitness, shared study, or music. Disselkoen advises other groups and organizations for young people to do the same. 

“If you’re in an organization that stands for something and if you’re actively working in the community, great. But also make time to engage with the participants individually, outside the activity to build that connection. If it’s an environmental group to clean parks, go have lunch afterwards. If you have a Bible study, do other things besides just studying or discussing. For example, one church had a mountain biking study group, another a running group. Do more active things— serving the community and building fellowship with each other. Pick activities that say, ‘we’re not here just to serve but to get to know one another and support each other too.’ That will look different for every organization, but there is beauty in the variety of creativity.” 

Ellie Disselkoen
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