What does it take to change the trajectory of a young person’s life? Sometimes, it’s as simple as just being there. Youth with mentors are more likely to be successful in school, engage in leadership, further their education, and have opportunities for career choices. And yet, 16 million young people in America are without a mentor. The challenge is simple – we need more of them.
January is National Mentoring Month and C&A is a proud sponsor of the 2018 Corporate Mentoring Challenge, a citywide initiative coordinated by the Midlands Mentoring Partnership (MMP). We sat down with three C&A employees who mentor youth to talk about what inspired them to get involved, the difference they have made in the lives of their mentees, and what they gain in return.
C&A’s Big Brothers Big Sisters Mentors, (left to right) Leah Breitbarth, Leslie Brown, Simona Romano, Ashley Berkholz, Nicole Hoeneman
Organization: Big Brothers Big Sisters
Years as a Mentor: 2+
When Leslie heard how long the list was of kids waiting to be matched to a mentor, it caught her attention and she decided right then to sign up. She wondered at first how she would juggle mentoring with her own kids and her busy life but, “It’s funny how you find a way to make time for what’s important to you.”
Her Little Sister is now nine years old and in fourth grade. The two get together a couple of times each month for two to three hours at a time. They may do a craft, play outside, go to a movie, or visit the Humane Society. They also keep it simple and just hang out, which they’ve found can be the most fun. “I will always remember her first time ice skating and it being such a confidence booster for her. She held my hand for quite a while and then it was awesome to see her let go! She was so proud of herself when she saw that she could do it on her own!”
Being part of her mentee’s life has been rewarding for the both of them. “My Little Sister has dealt with bullying, which is heartbreaking to hear and this has hurt her self-confidence. I was able to share with her the Energy Bus for Kids book and we talk about ways we both can have a positive mindset. It’s been awesome to see her transition over the past two years from this shy soft spoken girl, into a bubbly, hilarious, spunky one!”
Leslie uses her experience to teach her own kids about living a purposeful, impactful life. “Both my son and daughter have gotten to know my Little Sister over the past couple years. I hope to instill the importance of this type of leadership into my own kids.”
Years as a Mentor: 10
Karla has mentored several young girls during her ten years with the TeamMates program. This is the second time she’s been with her current mentee, a match initially made when she was in elementary school. A move brought change. “When her father was deported she and her mother moved to Mexico so they family could be together,” Karla explained. “Because she is documented, she would cross the border to go to school in San Diego. She would get up at 4 a.m. and use the bus system in order to be at school on time. That’s how much she wanted to go to school.” With family still in Omaha, she returned a few years later and is now a senior in High School.
The two meet weekly. During the elementary years, they did activities and went on outings. Now they discuss college, applications, and scholarships as she prepares to pursue higher education in nursing, forensic science, or possibly enter the military knowing service could help cover school. Twice a year they talk goal setting and benchmarks.
Karla serves as guide, voice of reason, and a stable force in her mentee’s life. “She has an interesting relationship with her parents. Because they were very young when she was born, she and her mother have more of a peer to peer relationship than parent child. There are days she will miss school so she can take her younger sibling to school. There are high expectations placed on her to help raise her sister.”
The bond they share transcends weekly meet ups required by the Teammates program. “She came to my wedding and it was so special. It was her first time. She had never been to a wedding before.”
Despite the relationship they’ve established, which has strengthened over time, Karla is often asked if she will continue to be her mentor after graduation. She assures her she’s not going anywhere. “She searches for a constant when there aren’t other constants. There’s dysfunction that appears normal when it’s not normal. It’s about building trust. She’ll always be a part of my life.”
Years as a Mentor: 1 ½
Kylie was introduced to the TeamMates program while attending a presentation by a guest speaker at her church. “I’m interested in mentoring for the long term and also in foster care. For me it was the first step. It inspired me.”
She completed a questionnaire indicating her interests and was quickly matched with her mentee who is now 12 years-old. “She has a difficult home life, a middle child with seven siblings. There’s a lot going on at home – a lot of “stepdads” (boyfriends) coming in and out of the picture.”
As a mentor, Kylie is an encourager and a supporter. “During most of our visits we just talk and she tells me about school and about what’s going on in her life. We’ve broken down the trust barrier and it’s more like a friendship now. Middle school is a tough age. We talk about how to stay out of the drama.“ They do fun, 12-year old things, too. Recently they made slime.
“One of the things I really like about TeamMates is that it’s not just about kids who are “needy” or in a lower income family who need mentors. The organization believes that every kid deserves a mentor.”
A familiar theme, looking for reassurance, Kylie is asked about the future – if she will continue as her mentee’s mentor. Her answer is yes. “It makes me feel good to know I can be her constant.”
Kylie says mentoring has given her a different perspective. “What you do matters. The commitment is an hour a week and how you spend that time matters. If I can point a kid in the right direction, that matters to me.”