Celebrating the holidays with your mentee

Is it appropriate to give your mentee a gift?

It’s that magical time of the year and for many, gift-giving is part of their holiday tradition and celebration. While it should never be an expectation, many mentors express an interest in giving their mentee a gift, but are not sure if it’s appropriate. Michigan State University Extension has some tips to assist mentors who would like to give a gift in selecting an appropriate option. Before proceeding, check with your program coordinator to make sure there are no rules related to gift-giving. Each program has different policies and procedures related to this and you want to be compliant. If the program approves of gifts, you will want to be careful in your selection.

Site-based mentors, or those who mentor at a school or other location, should be mindful that not all mentors at the site will be giving gifts. You do not want to cause hurt feelings with other youth or volunteers. In this situation, choose something thoughtful that is low in monetary value. A framed photo of you and your mentee, supplies or a game that you can use together at a future visit can be meaningful. You might also consider a gift to the program—talk to the program coordinator to see if there are any needs.

Community-based mentors have a little more leeway, as other youth and mentors are not present at visits. You want to be respectful of your mentee’s parents and their comfort level. It is generally a good idea to touch base with the parent to see if your gift idea is OK or to ask for ideas. Be sure to set boundaries and do not agree to make purchases outside of your initial budget.

Here are some ideas to consider.

  • Remember that your time is the greatest gift you can offer, so consider a special experience rather than a material gift. Ice skating and cocoa, attending a play or sporting event, or volunteering together and then discussing the experience over a meal will all create lasting memories.
  • Consider a gift for the family rather than just your mentee to avoid sibling jealousy—movie tickets, a meal at a family restaurant or a board game they can play together can bring the family together.
  • Sentimental gifts that can be kept for years will be a reminder of the match even when the formal mentoring relationship has closed. An ornament, holiday decoration, framed photo or scrapbook can last for years.
  • Baked goods or a homemade gift are almost always appropriate (be aware of any food allergies). To make this extra special, use a family recipe and share the recipe.
  • Consider an activity where you can make gifts for each other. Go to a pottery painting studio or similar type of business and select items to paint for each other.
  • Some mentees need a warm coat, clothing or other items, and these gifts are often appreciated—just check with the parents first in case they have already made these purchases.

Your desire to give a gift to your mentee shows the relationship is significant to you. It may sound cliché, but it’s the thought, and not how much you spend, that counts.

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