More Than Money
Issue #39

Money and Children

Table of Contents

“Mixing Money and Mentoring - A Unique Set of Challenges”

Personal Stories

By Phil Coupe

Phil Coupe is the executive director of The Saltwater Institute, a nonprofit educational foundation focused on creating values-centered leaders, systems, and cultures. He is also the creator of Water Corps, a program to expose at-risk youth to positive environments while providing them with job training and social interaction skills.

"Of those to whom much is given, much is required." Those simple words changed my life, leading me to become a mentor to at-risk, disadvantaged children. When, about 10 years ago, I came across those words in a speech by John F. Kennedy 1 , I decided I had an obligation to make an inventory of the major gifts I had received in life: a loving family; a comfortable, middle-class upbringing; a first-rate college education; and modest financial success. Much indeed had been given to me, which made it easy to decide to become a "big brother."

The wonderful paradox I've discovered about mentoring is that the mentor benefits from the relationship just as much as the mentee. This is one of many revelations that have come from my experiences working with boys living in group homes and in foster care situations. I have also discovered that mentoring presents its own unique set of challenges, particularly around the issues of money, values, and relationships.

I know that the gift of my time is more valuable in the world than the gift of money or material objects. This concept, however, can be much harder to grasp for a 10-year-old boy who-as has sometimes been the case with my mentees- has become intimate with feelings of want, due to the lack of both love and material things in his life. As a big brother, I want to give to my little brother in every way possible, without having gifts of money and material objects supersede my gifts of time, energy, and love.

Over time, I have learned how to walk this tightrope. One important lesson has been to be mindful that money can have an overpowering effect that harms a relationship indirectly. For example, it is easy to hurt the feelings of a mother and/or father if my gifts are so extravagant that they diminish what the parents might be trying to do for special occasions like birthdays and holidays. Then, not only can the parents' relationship with their child be undermined, but the parents may become less supportive of my relationship with my mentee as well.

The greatest danger, for me, has been the temptation to allow material gifts to dominate our relationship as a result of my failure to balance material gifts and gifts of time. Although I want to bring a nice gift or take my little brother to something that costs money every time we meet, I have to exercise restraint and make sure that our bond is grounded in the deeper relationship that comes from spending quality time engaged in activities like biking, hiking, playing basketball, or working on homework. Even though my little brother could always use something new (shoes, a coat, clothes, a bike, toys, etc.), I've found it important to remember that the non-material stuff will be of much greater value to him in the long run.

With JFK's words etched in my mind, community service is a personal value that I strive to keep at the top of my priority list every day. Money, of course, can be a great tool in this regard, because it has enormous power to create positive social change. At the same time, in my own mentor/mentee relationships, I've found it wise to be attentive to those places where money and community service overlap, because money can also create unintended consequences that undermine the social value of my intentions.


1 Editor's Note: President Kennedy's statement is based on a passage from the Bible (Luke 12:48).


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