Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why I mentor

I was busy. Work, young children and other demands last year kept me placing items on my "one day, just not today" list. Well, watching young people -- young, minority girls in particular-- made "one day" arrive more quickly. It concerned me to see so much potential lost in misguided relationships, low self-esteem and negative behavior. For the young women I saw who were in the right direction, I wondered if they had the encouragement and backing to continue making good choices.
I wanted to act. I also remembered the professional women who invested in me. Quickly, mentoring made the leap from my "One day..." list to my "To do" list.

I got with my sisters and a few friends, all in our 20s, all busy, working women. We brainstormed that we could spend our lunch time encouraging and motivating young women. The school district made it easy. They already had a program training volunteers, which also included undergoing a background check. The program, YouthFriends, matched us with a high school staff member who helped find us a room to meet in, and acted as a liason between our program and school administrators. Several community donors, and in-kind food donations, helped cover costs of feeding our girls.

"One day" arrived.
Over the year, I came to realize how important our 50 minutes with our girls was. We dealt with relationship drama, we exposed them to professionals who overcame troubles to work in high-profile and successful careers. We encouraged them. We motivated them. We cared for them.

And, in turn, they respected, appreciated and came to care for us.

So many times, it's the big programs that get the attention. But, our program, with just a handful of volunteers and a handful of students, is evidence that a little can go a long way.

So, why do I mentor? To give back to the community that I came from and build upon its potential by investing one fo the most precious commodities our society can afford - time.

Yes, I'm still busy, but in my busyness, I've made time for "One day."

Now, it's your turn. Why do you mentor?

About DIVA

Determined Individuals with a Vision to Achieve (DIVA) is a mentoring program for high school girls focusing on character development, academic success and college and career preparation. Our goal is to create more positive, self-assured young women who are equipped with the tools and resources necessary to make better decisions in their academic and personal lives.

We partnered with Southeast High School’s AVID program in Wichita, Kan. in Fall 2008, and had such positive feedback from participants that we changed our format from biweekly to weekly lunch meeting discussions. Four mentors – all in our 20s, representing various careers and educational backgrounds – devoted our time and money to ensure the program’s success.

Our school-based discussion format allowed us to talk about topics including positive relationship building to ACT Prep. We invited guest speakers including the Mayor of Wichita, Carl Brewer and Assistant County Manager, Ron Holt, among others.

We averaged nine students over 21 sessions, which equates to about 13 hours.

Expenses for each session averaged $40 including meals and materials.

The feedback from students included: “I became myself again. This program helped me to be more my self, to be respectful.”

For more information, e-mail