In honor of Mentoring Month, I am happy to share my experience as a mentor with Girls/Boyz First mentoring program. I am not currently a mentor, as the young girl I was matched with at age 10 is now 20 years old. I count the years we spent together, week after week and year after year, as some of the best use of volunteer time that I have ever spent.
I volunteered to be a mentor when I retired from public school teaching. It so happened that this young girl’s mother had recently abandoned the family and left the state. She was referred by the school’s guidance counselor as someone who could benefit from having a mentor. It was perfect timing for both of us.
I found our match to be easy right from the start, as my mentee was enthusiastic about everything. Her favorite way to spend time was simply to come to our house, help make a meal and share it with my husband and me, and then play a board game. We did many other activities that program director planned for all the partners, such as ice skating, hikes, apple picking, game nights and holiday parties. My mentee loved horses and I knew nothing about them. We found another mentor who owned several and that led to a summer full of riding and an eventual weekend job at a stable. My mentee often called me in those early years, asking, “What are we going to do this week?” We both had fun.
Things weren’t always rosy. My mentee turned the teenage corner and had many conflicts with her father. She had trouble in school and often feigned sickness or injury to be able to stay home. She did not have much support at home in the way of encouragement, or role models from anyone who had enjoyed or had success in school. Her home life in general was challenging. During those years I think the most important role I played was that of consistency. I also had to try to impart some habits that I felt my mentee needed to cultivate. One was simply to learn to say “thank you,” and that took a long time.
When my mentee graduated from high school we stopped officially being a mentor/mentee pair. But, we have remained good friends and I am thrilled that she still counts on me to help her out and wants me to be involved in her adult life. She recently asked me to help her with a sewing project, saying, “ It’ll be like when you taught me how to sew!” Her life is not an easy one, as her family dynamics have not changed. However, I’m very impressed that she has earned an LNA (licensed nurse assistant) certificate, is employed, and lives on her own. She has many talents and an amazing amount of confidence for someone from her background. My role now is to continue to encourage her, help her out when I can, and still be that consistent, trusting adult who truly cares about her and her welfare.
Common sense tells us, and research has proven, that children have a better chance of success and future happiness when they have at least one caring adult with whom they can spend quality time and depend on to be there for them. There are so many stresses in today’s society and the reasons to look for mentor relationships outside of one’s own family are numerous and varied. I am so happy that Girls/Boyz First exists to try to fill that crucial role for children and families who reach out and request that support. Personally, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have a relationship with one child I would have never known and the satisfaction of knowing that we both benefited greatly from our friendship.