Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Writing Mentors Promote Healing Through Words

I like to write about the power of words. Anyone who does not believe words have power has obviously never used them correctly.

Words have power not only over the physical world around us but also on how we live, how we influence others and how we are ourselves influenced. Words can help or hurt; subjugate or set free; allow us to experience thoughts and emotions which we might never have experienced without them.

So when I read about a mentoring program which involves volunteer writers I sit up and take notice. In this case I am talking about the WriteGirl Program based in Los Angeles. The goal is to reach at-risk girls and help them find the power within themselves through their own use of the written word.

WriteGirl takes girls who have perhaps never written a story, never even kept a journal before, and teaches them how to have the confidence to put their thoughts (dreams, fears, hopes, cares, worries) down on paper. The program is less about the work of writing and more about the benefits.

Every writer I know already understands the benefits of writing. It is cathartic. It allows us to step away from everything which holds us down in our day-to-day life and be free. This is powerful. This is what gets us through the hours when we are unable to write. It helps us find a place where we can breathe again.

And most of the writers I know aren't at-risk teen girls; homeless, pregnant or lost.

The article I read goes on at length about the ways the writer mentors help the girls adjust, adapt and find some inner strength. But I think it's also important to talk about the benefits for the writers.

As a writer it is difficult to know whether your work has an impact, beyond book sales, or the occasional letter from someone who read your work. Often I wonder if what I do matters at all (and so do many writers I know) although we don't let that doubt stop us.

I am fortunate in that I have been able to mentor students several times. I have worked one-on-one with high school interns interested in learning more about the work of journalists and photographers. I was there to help them write stories and take pictures, yes, but I was also there to help them find the confidence they needed to even begin. I helped them recognize the value in their own work, and to believe in themselves and their own skills.

I also regularly visited elementary schools to talk about my job as a journalist and share my experiences; what I did, how I did it and what impact it had on the communities I served.

Of everything I have ever done in my life, these were the most rewarding. My interns have gone on to study at university, becoming editors of the college newspaper and pursuing successful careers as writers and photographers.

For me, mentoring was a win-win situation. I received as much as I gave, and I always gave 100%. If you want to have your own rewarding experience consider offering your services as a mentor. Even if your local school doesn't have a program they might have an English teacher who would love to have you come and speak with his students. You don't know until you ask, and you'll never have the same rewarding experiences I've had if you don't at least try.


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