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Better Ways to Say “Thank You” to Your Kids Hope USA Mentors

 In Across the Country, Leadership

Screen Shot 2017-01-20 at 10.26.44 AMBy LuAnn Kern
Kids Hope USA Director – Engedi Church, Holland, MI

Our Kids Hope program was starting another school year I wanted to show our mentors just how grateful I was for their service. I painstakingly created little treat bags complete with clever sayings like, You are a Lifesaver, etc. I thought these were so cute and I would love getting one–surely my mentors would, too. Right?

Not exactly. While some did appreciate the gesture, for others it totally missed the mark. This got me thinking. What is the best way for me to encourage and appreciate my mentors?

So I turned to some research, most notably, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, by Gary D. Chapman and Paul E. White (Northfield Publishing, 2011). What I learned is making me rethink how I say “Thank You.”

First a little background: Chapman and White’s research shows that the reasons people initially volunteer (to develop social connections, to respond to a specific need or crisis, for religious convictions) is different from the reasons that they continue to volunteer. Volunteers continue because (1) they feel they’re contributing to a greater cause, (2) they feel they’re making a difference in someone’s life, (3) they have a sense of loyalty, and (4) they receive positive feedback. As a KH Director, it’s my responsibility to provide the positive feedback so that the relationship between mentors and students is nurtured. As Chapman and White point out, appreciation = engagement.

Here’s what I learned:

Words of Affirmation: I need to be intentional in the way I say “Thank You” to my mentors.

  1. Be specific. Praising a mentor is most effective when the praise is specific. “Great job!” or “Thanks for everything” isn’t as powerful as

Thanks for bringing in your Ipad to play chess with Matt. It showed him that he was important enough to you that you remembered to bring it for him, and I could tell he was having a blast with you!”

  1. Look beyond what a mentor does, and focus on their inner nature or character.

“Thanks for being so gracious when you showed up at school but your student was sick that day.”

  1. Be timely. While hand-written notes of appreciation will always be the golden standard, they don’t get in the mailbox very quickly. So don’t overlook the power of an email or text which offer immediate appreciation for a job well done and which are equally valued by younger mentors.

Quality Time: Spending time with mentors outside of the mentoring hour can show appreciation, but it can be challenging with mentors coming and going throughout the school day. I had arranged for several mentors to get a tour of the middle school to start their Kids Hope Next mentoring. We were meeting over their lunch hour and time was tight, so I pulled together a quick and easy Taco Tailgate. We finished our chips and salsa in the visitor parking lot, with many curious 6th graders watching us through the library windows, and then proceeded inside for the tour. It was a fun way to start the year and my mentors loved it.

One of my goals this year is to schedule regular, informal meet-ups at a local coffee shop (think “office hours”), and invite everyone to attend if and when they can. Chapman and White remind me that when doing so, I need to be sure to give them my focused attention–make eye contact, don’t multi-task, (cell phones off!), listen for feelings as well as thoughts, affirm their feelings (even if I disagree), observe body language, and don’t interrupt. Afterwards, I will need to send an email or text to let them know I appreciated their time and/or that I’m following up on something that was discussed.

Acts of Service: Reaching out to help mentors shows they’re appreciated. This is especially effective for people who value service as a language of appreciation. Individually ask your mentors, What can I do to help with your mentoring? Are there any resources that you think would help? How can I pray for you? How can I pray for your student?

I follow several blogs and when I come across an article or resource that I think would help a particular mentor-student relationship, I forward it on with a “thought of you and Student” email. I always get a positive response back.

Tangible gifts. Ah, back to the goodie bag. Gifts are appropriate for those who appreciate gifts. Make your gifts something they would value (not you) and remember that little things can mean a lot. Last February I brought in hot chocolate for the students and mentors. It was ridiculously simply and offered a nice break to the winter dull-drums. The kids still talk about it—and so do the mentors. I’m definitely repeating that this year.

I’ll close with one last suggestion: I decided to forgo the little treat bags and saved my budget for more tangible end-of-year gifts for my mentors. I purchased a variety of movie-sized boxes of candy and gift cards from local merchants. I taped a gift card to each box of candy and let the mentors choose which they preferred. This, and a hand-written thank you note, were appreciated and a great way to wrap up an awesome year.

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