Becoming an expert mentor is fairly similar to the process of perfecting a favorite recipe.

Last weekend I made my first batch of gingerbread cookies for the season.

I have been baking these cookies for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of baking this same recipe with my mom when I was about 4 years old, wearing a tiny apron and standing on a chair to reach the counter.

My mom showed me how to measure the ingredients, leveling the flour in the measuring cup with the flat edge of a table knife. I learned how to roll out the dough evenly and then cut the little people out with a cookie cutter. And then she helped me carefully decorate the cookies with currants for eyes and buttons and red hots for their mouths, before baking them.

Throughout the years, my mom baked gingerbread for my teachers at school every Christmas, and they were always a huge hit. Almost a decade ago when I went to seminary, I decided to carry on the tradition, baking gingerbread cookies to give to my professors. These days I enjoy baking them for family and friends and last weekend I baked them for our monthly Braid gathering.

People often ask me what the “secret” is to making a perfect gingerbread cookie.

But there is not one easy, single answer to that question. Rather, it is the accumulation of all the tips and tricks I have acquired over almost 40 years of repeating this same recipe.

Of course, the recipe itself is a solid foundation. The recipe my mom and I use comes straight from the Fannie Farmer cookbook and is quite simple and accessible. We haven’t altered it significantly, but my cookbook has copies of notes my mom has made over the years, as well my own discoveries from baking on my own.

These insights include slight alterations in ingredient amounts, which brand of molasses is best, or what temperature the dough should be before it gets rolled out. Even with this last batch, I discovered another trick for getting the dough to roll out smoothly and consistently.

All of this seems like an apt metaphor for your work of mentoring.

Braid has a pretty good “recipe” for building community around foster youth. The ingredients of three committed mentors and a caring facilitator work well in creating a foundation for long-term, quality relationships.

But that is just the beginning. We know that each team needs to find its own unique variation on the basic recipe, and we enjoy watching that happen in different ways for each of our teams.

Mentors may learn some of their tips from observing or comparing notes with other Braid mentors at our monthly community gatherings. Mostly, their weekly visits are like that trial and error of using a different brand of flour or adding a little extra butter, finding the activities and approaches that work best for them and their teammates and their youth.

Our mentors may not bake a perfect cookie every week, but over time they are gradually becoming expert bakers in their own right.

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