Noah Isherwood, Campus Carrier asst. arts and living editor
At Berry College, there is one educational tactic shared by faculty and staff alike, informing nearly all programs in and out of the classroom: mentorship. As students make their way through the halls and over the paths of Berry, numerous other mentors are introduced into their lives: bosses, professors, coaches, and upperclassmen with wisdom to share. In every area of student life, Berry aims to ensure each and every student is mentored. This year, the Chaplain’s Office has joined that campaign with a new spiritual mentorship program, headed by Assistant Chaplain Reverend Erin Moniz.
This semester marks the first official year of the spiritual mentors program, but the program has been several years in the making. According to Moniz, the Chaplain’s Office has long recognized a desire among students for close personal relationships that fostered their spiritual growth, especially relationships with individuals with more life experience.
“They really gravitated towards people in a different stage of life than them, versus a peer situation…having surrogate parents at college,” Moniz said.
This led the Chaplain’s Office to begin exploring ways to integrate more intentional one-on-one spiritual relationships into their programming.
“We didn’t actually come up with this idea on our own; there are actually several colleges that are counterparts to us that have run very similar programs,” Moniz said.
The originally slated release date for this program coincided with several other mentoring initiatives at Berry, so the Chaplain’s Office put the program on the back burner for a time, taking time to research and strategize methods for one on one programming, waiting until they felt the time was right.
That time came last year when Moniz mentored a group of Berry students to test out the formula that she and the Chaplain’s Office had put together in order to see just how the proposed program would play out. It was a time to work out the kinks and troubleshoot any issues that arose before the program formally began . According to Moniz, it went quite well and she knew it was time to roll out the program. She reached out to several faculty members that the Chaplain’s Office has a working relationship with and began coordinating a group of mentors, equipping them with resources and tactics to assist students in their spiritual growth. All they needed were the students.
This fall, the Chaplain’s Office reached out to the student body, offering an orientation session to learn about what the program would entail.
“We try to make mentoring a little bit deeper of a commitment than some of the other religious life offerings,” Moniz said.
This fact necessitates that students be dedicated to the program, sharing intimate time with their mentor and small group on a more regular basis than a casual study. A small group format was chosen to accommodate as many students as possible while still insuring a closer relationship with a mentor. Groups are made up of three to five students and a mentor, grouped by gender. It was found that in gendered groups, members are more likely to share the deeper struggles that they face, and an open dialog about such matters is key to the program’s goals. The hope is that under this setup, students can provide more support for one another as they share more, as well as gaining more from their mentors. After the orientation session, prospective mentees were asked to fill out an application, or a series of questions that would allow the Chaplain’s Office to pair them with the mentor best-suited to their personal needs. After this process ended, there were 30 applicants divided up among six mentors. These six groups will meet once at least once a month throughout the semester for several hours at a time. The goal is to spend quality time, not necessarily get more hours in, but it is the mentor’s prerogative to schedule additional meeting times should they so choose.
Moniz says that the relative success or failure of this semester’s program will determine the future of spiritual mentorship at Berry.
“Chaplaincy is all about responding to the needs that evolve around you,” Moniz said.
Those needs have obviously evolved in such a way as to necessitate this program’s existence, but if those needs change, the program will change to adapt to those evolving needs. The Chaplains Office will continue this program for as many years as it is still valuable. This year is all about collecting the data necessary to determine what that value will be, and if the Chaplain’s Office finds that this program is filling the needs of students adequately, it will become a recurring part of their overall programming. The program requires little oversight as set up and is not expensive, so if successful, it has a unique opportunity to supplement the many other programs that the Chaplain’s Office organizes.
“I think college is a time when it is really great to just have someone who’s not your parent that you can talk to openly,” said Moniz.
Essential to spiritual growth, according to Moniz, are deeper personal connections with those more spiritually mature.
“This is a place where someone is really, intentionally, putting themselves parallel to your life, and saying: ‘I’m coming with you; let’s do this together,’” Moniz said. “Berry is already a place uniquely set up to value mentorship. We saw an opportunity to put something together that provided a more formalized experience for our students who were seeking intergenerational engagement.”