|Volume LIV||August 2007||Number 3|
The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania's Mentor Program introduces new members to the fundamentals of the Craft and increases the likelihood they'll remain active in the fraternity. Often, candidates interested in becoming a Mason have the desire to give back to their community and help others, but knowing only the two men who signed their petition, aren't sure where to start. The Mentor Program assists with directing these men in finding a comfort zone and enabling them to get out of the fraternity what they put into it.
The program consists of taking a man who just joined a large organization and assigning a person to him as a mentor for one year. The mentor takes him to visit other lodges, educates him about the history of the fraternity and teaches him how to become an officer and about the other Masonic organizations. It gives him an overview; everything he needs to know, but wouldn't otherwise know to ask.
The program stands as an excellent guide for lodges who are striving to keep membership numbers up, but find the task becomes a lower priority as other operations issues arise.
"Ideals can get lost in the day-to-day operations of a lodge; paying the bills, fixing the roof, etc." said Bro. George Mason, W.M., J. Simpson Africa Lodge No. 628, Stroudsburg. "New members, who feel as if they're alone, can become discouraged and fall by the wayside."
Bro. Mason, whose lodge has run the Mentor Program for the last several years, realizes mentoring is one of the keys to membership retention. He discovered that while the lodge is able to recruit new members, almost 60 percent quickly lose interest and discontinue membership.
"Every new member adds a new dynamic," Bro. Mason said. "It's important to express to them that they're part of the outcome, part of something great."
The Mentor Program is not intended to take the place of instructors within the lodge who prepare an individual for advancement through the degrees. A mentor should be a friend, a listener and a coach during member's first year.
Bro. Lee Leonard, also of J. Simpson Africa Lodge No. 628, knows first-hand the benefits of being on both ends of mentoring. Less than year ago, he was an aspirant considering membership within the fraternity, but felt a little overwhelmed at the magnitude of history and ritual. Today, he is a Junior Deacon and a mentor, sharing his "fresh" knowledge with new brethren.
"I wasn't sure, at first, if this was something I wanted to do," Bro. Leonard said. "Thanks to my mentor, there was always someone there answer my questions. He taught me about the history and how it plays into today's society. It was very enlightening and made me want more."
Bro. Leonard jumped right into organizing community events and has no plans to slow down. Freemasonry is a platform for him to make difference. It gives him the resources and able bodies to achieve great things for both his lodge and his community. He doesn't just look at what he can do, though; he wants to help build an active, cohesive membership within the lodge. This led him to become a mentor.
"Freemasonry has given me a purpose," he said. "If I was touched like this, I want someone else to be equally excited. There's a lot to offer here." Being a mentor isn't about having all the answers, but knowing where to find them and making new brethren feel comfortable in fielding their questions. If a mentor takes the time to research a question, it demonstrates the level in which he wants to accommodate the new member.
Bro. Mason considers the chance to act as a mentor a great honor. A newly-made Mason has often been thought of as the most important in the official line of Masonry, so the preservation of these members is essential to the longevity of the lodge and the fraternity.
Mentoring new members requires time and effort, but in the long run, assists lodges with meeting membership growth and retention goals. While the Mentor Program is designed to take place over the course of a year, each candidate is to be treated as an individual and allowed to learn at his own pace. With more members to serve as mentors, the duties can be doled out.
"If a lodge doesn't feel they have time to organize a Mentor Program, they need it more than anyone else," Bro. Mason said. "In just a year's time, they'll see the impact and find more time created due to the extra members."
He knows from experience what active members can bring to a lodge: a fluid, last-minute transition to Worshipful Master. When the incoming Worshipful Master had to step down due to extenuating circumstances, Bro. Mason willingly accepted the appointment. He had no trouble filling his officer positions on short notice.
Even a lodge with a large membership and a continual influx of candidates understands the importance of mentoring. Bro. Larry Bingeman, retired Sergeant Major in the U.S. Marine Corps, has directed the Mentor Program at Abraham C. Treichler Lodge No. 682, Elizabethtown, since 2000. Some months, the lodge sees up to 10 petitioners.
Bro. Bingeman considers the program worthwhile. Welcoming stranger and making him comfortable should be a given in an organization referred to as brotherhood and a fraternity.
"It's human nature to want to find a familiar face," he said. "If left to flounder on his own in an organization full of men he has nothing in common with, other than being a Mason, he's likely not to come back."
Mentoring new members is not a new concept, but certainly a widely-practiced one, with similar goals across all Grand Lodges. According to the Masonic Service Association's The Short Talk Bulletin April, 1995), "The Mentoring Program is based on consideration, respect and cooperation. It is a team program aimed at developing each Brother to his fullest potential... failure to properly prepare the candidate for his new duties and privileges is both a failure on the part of the Craft to discharge its full obligations to him and a weakness in the fundamental system of Initiation."
Bro. Mason encourages any lodges looking for assistance with the Mentor Program to visit District 50's Web site at www.50thdistrict.com, where they can find a copy of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania's Mentor Program, as well as tips on conducting a successful program.
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