“Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living—if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.” — Denzel Washington

We may not be Academy Award-winning actors like Denzel Washington, but most of us can relate to his words. Mentors are all around us—most often at work or at school—and they are usually defined by what they give to others. They use their knowledge and experiences to provide guidance to less experienced individuals. Sometimes a simple word of encouragement is the only form of support needed. A mentor can be anyone—a teacher, a community member, a peer—who helps us fine tune our skills and realize our potential.

Since January is National Mentoring Month, which was established to promote youth mentoring in the U.S., I want to highlight some of the amazing mentoring programs available to students in the Hudson City School District. We are proud to have a variety of mentorship opportunities throughout our schools that support student success and development.

One of our most well-known mentoring programs is Hudson Reads at M.C. Smith Intermediate School. The Hudson Reads program promotes children’s literacy by pairing students with community members to read books together during lunchtime. The Readers as Leaders portion of the program pairs older students with younger students to read together and have conversations about their books. These mentorships help students in building confidence, self-esteem and academic skills, as well as a love of reading and learning.

New to Hudson Senior High School is the Mentor Foundation USA peer-to-peer program. The goal is for students to show how they are “living the example” and dispel the myths surrounding drug abuse by providing youth a platform to speak up and out against drugs. By highlighting the intrinsic talents and strengths that young people already have, they become their biggest advocates for leading drug-free lives.

We are fortunate to offer some students the opportunity to participate in the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) mentoring program, which is a grant-funded initiative. The aim of MBK is to support young men of color in reaching their fullest potential. Adult mentors work with students on strategies for improving personal outcomes, including identifying positive and negative influences and embracing education as an important foundation for college and career readiness.

In addition to mentoring programs focused on academics and healthy life choices, our long-standing Youth Employment Services (YES) Program focuses on employability. This free employment training program is open to students ages 14 and older. Now in its 11th year, the YES Program helps Hudson students build skills and confidence in job searching, résumé writing and interviews. Students also participate in local internships to apply skills such as how to be a valuable employee and the importance of being on time. Some students have clear paths to employment after graduation, and all students in the YES Program gain beneficial work experience to add to their résumés.

The most important point to be made is that mentors actively choose to be positive influences in the lives of others. Mentors are not merely defined by the knowledge they have to give, but also by their relationships and what they mean to their mentees.

Oprah Winfrey describes a mentor as “someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” We are all capable of great things. Sometimes we just need a mentor to show us the way and provide the extra encouragement to push harder or try something new. We are grateful for our mentors. They add a great deal of value to our students’ lives.