My mentee in "sunglasses" and me
After the 2016 elections, I was in despair and generally pretty down about the future for women and girls. I wanted to do something beyond the ballot box. What could I offer? How could I reach out and make a difference? In previous years, I had helped out at the Berkeley Food and Housing Project (a great organization) - but just on holidays. Although I loved serving food to the community, I specifically wanted to connect with girls, and preferably on a long-term timeline.
That's when I remembered my friend from college, who immigrated to the U.S. from China when she was a preteen, and was connected with a mentor in high school. She still talks about her mentor; the trips they take together, and she never misses catching up with her when she's visiting back home in the Bay Area. I always envied that she had this mentor figure who was not a relative, that continues to be in her life as a friend, cheerleader, and guardian. "I could be that for someone," I thought to myself.
That's when I turned to Google and started to search for mentorship opportunities. I settled on Be A Mentor because their mission seemed clear and simple:
Be a Mentor, Inc. seeks to help children and youth from challenging and vulnerable circumstances develop the assets necessary to make healthy life choices, set realistic goals, act with determination and ultimately build vibrant successful lives for themselves through direct contact and relationships with caring and positive adult role models.
After a vigorous background check and agreeing to commit to meeting with the youth every week for the first year, I was matched with my mentee. At the time, all I was told was that she was 10, and that she lived in East Oakland. I also live in East Oakland, and the organization granted my request for the youth to be in proximity to me.
The first year included two month-long sessions of training regarding mentoring. It was a helpful gateway into identifying when to help, and when to trust your mentee to make their own decisions.
It's been almost four years since I started my journey with my now 13-year old mentee. Little did I know how much she would teach me as a quick-witted, bright, sometimes cynical (she's 13 y'all), and caring young adult. Although sometimes I am unsure of how much of a positive impact I am making on her, I have been able to show her, as a woman of color, what a small business owner, sole homeowner, and beekeeper looks like.
Sadly, with the state of politics and now with the 2020 elections coming up, the need to lift up young women and women of color is urgent now more than ever. And since the pandemic hit and kids are no longer seeing their teachers regularly in person, and parents have their own work to do, they need all the attention they can get from the adults in their lives. Zoom has been an OK way to connect with my mentee during the pandemic, but nothing compares to meeting socially distant, in person.
If there is any interest in helping out youth, check out Be A Mentor or reach out to a school near you! There are so many children in the community who could use an extra pair of eyes and ears.