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The Power of Mentorship
by Rieva Lesonsky
June 14, 2024

Why Mentorship Matters

If you’re reading this on the SCORE blog, you’re likely well-acquainted with how powerful mentorship can be. As National Mentoring Month comes to an end, I talked to three successful entrepreneurs about their mentoring experiences.

Emily Moberly, CEO & Founder, Traveling Stories

Emily Moberly’s business depends on mentors. Reading has long been a part of Emily’s life, and while teaching in Honduras, she decided to incorporate her love for books into her career plans. Her high school students in Honduras had virtually no access to books. So, Emily brought them a suitcase full of books and started a daily reading time. She recalls, “Seeing the students fall in love with reading and changing their lives changed mine.”

Returning to California, Emily decided to give more children the chance to love reading. In 2010 she founded the nonprofit Traveling Stories. A year later, while shopping at a Farmers’ Market in a low-income community in San Diego, she noticed dozens of kids running around while their frustrated parents tried to shop and asked the market manager if she could set up a tent where children could read with volunteers while their parents shopped. The manager loved the idea, donated the space, and helped promote the concept. And StoryTent was born.

Children were motivated by the Book Bucks and prizes Emily offered. She soon noticed even the kids who didn’t like to read came to the StoryTent. Eventually, as they “became more confident in their reading abilities and were exposed to more books that matched their interests, their motivation shifted from earning prizes to reading for enjoyment.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, StoryTent had to pivot and is now a virtual six-week program. Children receive an initial package of three to six books and meet with their mentor for a weekly 30-45-minute session. At the end of six weeks, they can re-enroll. The mentors also introduce their mentees to e-books, so they get exposed to as many new books as possible. Emily says her virtual program is even higher quality because of the one-on-one attention it provides to the children. 

The kids earn “Book Bucks” for every book they read, which they can use to buy prizes of their choosing, which are shipped to their homes. Emily says the mentors not only help improve the children’s reading skills, but the Book Bucks help them learn money management skills as well.

At the moment, Traveling Stories is mostly a local program based in San Diego. But Emily says, now that they’re virtual, it “could easily serve families all over the world.” Because the team is small (four people), Emily is focusing her outreach to communities where they have strong relationships. Still, she would love help spreading the word about the program and its mission to teach children “if they work hard towards something, they can achieve.”

I talked to Emily about the importance of mentors at Traveling Stories.

Where do you find your mentors?

Emily: It’s been easier to recruit mentors than we expected. We love when current volunteers recommend their friends sign up to volunteer, too! We’re also really thankful for our community partners for referring amazing volunteers. We’ve built strong relationships with schools, service groups, and some companies. We’re always looking to connect with more. We also utilize websites like that promote volunteer opportunities. 

How meaningful is the mentor relationship?

Emily: I think there’s a real shortage of positive attention in most children’s lives. As a single mom myself, I struggle to give my kids the undivided attention they want and need. Every child needs to feel important and valued. We can teach children to read, but if they don’t believe they matter, then literacy skills won’t empower them the way we hope it will. The mentor relationship in our Virtual StoryTent program is so crucial because it personalizes the program to each child. 

What do you think is the power of mentorship?

Emily: It creates a way for children to connect and build trust with a role-model. It allows for a child to feel important and seen. Even if a child gets those positive things from their own caregivers regularly, it’s still powerful for them to experience more of it from a mentor. 

Did you/do you have a mentor?

Emily: Yes, I’ve had mentors in my life since I was a child. I have one now that I talk to every week! They’ve changed my life in numerous ways. I can’t imagine who I’d be without their influence. As a parent myself, I also seek out mentors for my children. 

Emily has much to be proud of. Initially, Traveling Stories focused on opening libraries internationally in communities that didn’t have books. They’ve opened eight world libraries through partnerships with schools and orphanages.

To date, Traveling Stories has empowered 9,961 children by giving them access to books and literacy support—nearly 7,000 by visiting local StoryTent programs, and 3,000 children who had daily access to the World Libraries.

Jill Dominguez, President & CEO, ESSERGY | Harnessing Essential Energy for Social Change

Jill Dominguez has dedicated her life to helping those in need, helping nonprofit and for-profit companies, foundations, community organizations, private-sector lenders, government agencies, and elected officials. She’s a communication strategist, speaker, author, and blogger.

I talked to Jill about how mentors have helped her succeed.

Did you have a mentor?

Jill: Yes, very early in my career, Marva Smith Battle-Bey taught me so much about inner-city development. What an amazing experience to have this powerful force of a woman take the time to encourage me and teach me. I was a suburban kid from Orange County, and she saw me as a young woman with potential. I owe a great deal of my success in inner-city development to her.  

And Wil Marshall, who I met when he was Chief of Staff for Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. He has been my longest-serving mentor and is still a great resource for me.

How did they help you? 

Jill: Mentors teach, encourage, and build your career. You also gain soft skills. I learned political etiquette from Wil—a skill he freely taught me. Marva taught me to be strong. Speak up in the room. Don’t let others silence you in any way. Use your strongest skills—wit, humor, and negotiating.

Could you have accomplished what you did if you didn’t have mentors?

Jill: No!  A career without mentors is like being a kid with your nose pressed up against the window looking in but never finding the door. Mentors’ time is the most valuable asset in your toolkit. They open doors and are part of your success. Remember to say thank you.

Are you a mentor?

Jill: Yes. I make a point of giving my time and sharing my knowledge with others. But I do not like being asked to be a “mentor”. I prefer to have the mentor/mentee relationship evolve similar to a friendship, growing over time with mutual respect 

Did you learn from that experience?

Jill: In every mentor experience, I have grown and learned lessons of great value from my mentees. A true mentor relationship should be mutually beneficial. 

Nellie Akalp, CEO, CorpNet

Nellie Akalp is a serial entrepreneur, prolific author (she blogs for SCORE), business expert, and professional speaker.

I talked to her about mentoring.

Did you have mentors when you started your first business or launched CorpNet?

Nellie: No, it was all based on instinct, our gut feelings, a very ripe and demanding market, and lots of trial and error.

[While we were building] CorpNet, we came across somebody, a very successful gentleman, though I wouldn’t call him a mentor, who became my friend and taught my husband a lot about business and how we had to change our business model. We realized we [had to stop going after] consumers and focus on the B2B aspect, which is when we launched our CorpNet Partner Program. 

He also taught us about not being too nice in business and asking for what we want because we tend to compromise ourselves.

How do you define mentorship? You seem to be a natural mentor

Nellie: To me, the true definition of a mentor is somebody who truly wants to pay it forward and see somebody else’s success without charging a dime for it.

That’s one of my goals and core values. If I can leave a roomful of people and I’ve touched or changed one person’s life, then I’ve done my job.

I do feel like I’m a natural mentor. I believe the ability to be a mentor is something you’re born with, and you should share it with the rest of the universe.

True mentorship is leaving a lasting impression on someone, being able to change someone’s life. When you’re willing to put time, effort, passion, focus, and determination into giving a portion of your time and yourself towards the success of another without having any expectations. Just pay it forward.

Do you have any tips for mentors? 

Do it because you want to do it, and you’re passionate about being a mentor.

Do it because see you the good in it and feel it’s going to change another human’s life, and ultimately from that change, you will get fulfillment.

Boundaries are a mentor’s best friend—everyone knows where they stand, and expectations are aligned.

The value of SCORE mentors

It should go without saying that the thousands of mentors at SCORE are driven by the desire to pay it forward and share their experiences and knowledge with you.

If you have a mentor, you know how valuable their advice and insight is. Adam Rizza, co-founder of BLNQ eyewear, says his remote SCORE mentor, Hal Shelton, has helped him. Rizza says, “As a company that needed guidance through the coronavirus pandemic, Hal has helped us feel more confident about what to do and how to do it. Knowing he’s there, just a phone call away, is amazing.”

If you want that kind of help, go here to find a SCORE mentor of your own.

About the author
Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky is president and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog
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