The Chicago Bridge Mentorship Program: Advancing the Eldercare Workforce

Last year at this time, Chicago Bridge introduced its new initiative, a mentorship program. The six-month pilot would go on to match emerging professionals in the field of aging with seasoned professionals already established as respected names in Chicago’s aging network. The program – a success according to many measures – brought together 16 mentor pairs with the goal of developing the Mentee’s skills, network, and professional confidence. Along the way, the Chicago Bridge Mentorship Program made a meaningful contribution to Chicago’s eldercare workforce. We are confident this contribution will expand in the program’s second year, beginning April 2011. This seems like a big statement: “The Chicago Bridge Mentorship Program made a meaningful contribution.” But it’s one we believe to be true. We’ve seen evidence of this through formal evaluations completed by Mentors and Mentees, through a forum discussion at an end-of-the-program brunch in November 2010, and through the achievements of Mentees since joining the program. We’ve heard encouraging stories of how Mentees feel more prepared and supported, how Mentors feel a connection to the next generation of aging leaders, and how programs and services for Chicago’s older adults have been strengthened because of the program.
A Mentor summarized this best: “It was gratifying to be able to introduce my Mentee to my colleagues…and to feel that I was helping a really talented professional join the community of senior service providers in Chicago.”

When Mentees Feel Prepared and Supported

The benefits of building a mentorship relationship are well documented, as the experience of the Chicago Bridge Mentees demonstrates.
In an evaluation, one Mentee explained: “It was like having my own cheering section. It was great to spend two hours a month with someone who was only interested in my success.”
Mentees were able to directly benefit from personalized support from a knowledgeable and well-established professional with shared interests and goals. Many Mentors could empathize with their Mentees, having experienced many similar challenges when first entering the eldercare workforce.

And Mentors Feel Connected to the Next Generation of Leaders

The Chicago Bridge Mentorship Program created a process by which seasoned professionals could meet and share their hard-earned knowledge and connections with new professionals eager to learn. Mentors have already shown their dedication to the field through their years of service, but their role in this program ensures their contribution will extend far beyond their time in the workforce. Each Mentor’s legacy will include the achievements of these Mentees, future leaders and advanced practitioners both locally and nationally. It should be stated, however, that the education was not one-sided. Mentors also reported learning from their Mentees. New ideas, new theories, and new perspectives flowed from Mentor to Mentee and back again. As one Mentor stated: “We both seemed to have benefited from sharing with each other and discussing current happenings in the field.”

Chicago’s Older Adults Benefit

The Chicago Bridge Mentorship Program facilitated the transfer of lessons from past Mentors’ successes and failures to current Mentees. This wisdom passed from seasoned professionals gives emerging professionals better contextual understanding of the state of the aging field today and informs decisions made about tomorrow. These relationships establish a strong foundation for future exchanges of knowledge and ideas. And who benefits most from this program? Chicago’s older adults, who receive care and attention from these more informed and confident professionals. We are certain the results of the Chicago Bridge Mentorship Program, both as a pilot and an ongoing program, will be felt by Chicago’s aging community for years to come. * This article was edited by Arlene Wanetick

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