Mentoring: A great way to pay it forward & share what you know

Mi Vida Loca

I strongly believe in the power of mentoring and have written about it on a few occasions. I’ve profiled the Latino BIGS of NYC program as well as touched upon what it’s meant in my own life. Being involved in the development of our youth has been a personal mission since I was in my 20s and it has truly affected my life. So when the opportunity arose to get involved in another program, I jumped at the chance. The Spark Program didn’t disappoint and I got to meet an aspiring young, Latina writer, Adaleyna.

For eight weeks Adelayna came to my office for two hours during which time she would job shadow me. Because my job consisted of some pretty mundane duties, I tried to break it up by taking that time to take a coffee or lunch break so we could discuss real writing. I even had the opportunity to introduce her to my published writer friend, Ulises Silva of Digital Decaf (soon to be renamed) blog.

During the student’s time in the program they’re required to put together a final project highlighting what they learned during their eight weeks. Then parents and mentors are invited to a final event where everyone gets to see the project. Because the eight weeks are spent at the workplace and you only get two hours per week, it’s hard to feel as if you’re teaching the student anything but the truth is that it’s just an introduction to a potential career, giving a young person a glimpse of the possibilities his/her future holds.

Was it easy?

No. 8th graders are not easy to impress and can have a tendency to look bored all the time. It takes an adult with a thick skin not to try to jump through hoops at the first sign of an eye roll on the student’s part. And trying to make your sometimes boring job seem fun to them is a bit of a task.

Was it worth it?

Most definitely. During the evening of their presentations when she showed off the article she had written for our site, I really felt as if I made an impact in her life, however small. And in the end if all I left her with was a feeling that she too could do it, then that was enough.

Presentation time! She doesn’t look bored :)

Check out the Spark Program. They are currently in Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Download a fact sheet 2012 Chicago- Mentor with Spark .

With my family at my college graduation

From high school dropout to strong (and educated) Latina

Seriously Though

It was January of 19*cough, cough*.  It was my 18th birthday. While the rest of my senior class was in their respective classes anxiously awaiting spring and all of the pomp and circumstance that prom and graduation would bring, I was making my way to my locker.  I had made a decision that would change the rest of my life.  I was dropping out.  I got to my locker, removed my personal items walked out of the building and never looked back.  I got my GED just a few months later but then settled into a life of mediocrity.  I had officially become a statistic.

As I think about it now, so many years later, I wonder how it was possible that I could become a statistic.  I was one of the smartest kids in my class most of my academic career.  I was quiet, never made trouble, earned perfect grades, and countless honors.  At what point in my life did that all turn around? I can’t actually pinpoint the exact moment because it was a lot of different moments and as I reflect on the answer I think of this…

As a little girl I wanted to be a ballerina/teacher/surgeon.  It wasn’t that at one time or another during my childhood I wanted to be one or another of the aforementioned, I literally wanted to be all three all at once.  I walked on the tips of my toes, so being a ballerina was an obvious career choice.  I loved to be the teacher when my siblings and I played school, so of course I was destined to teach the masses and for some odd reason, which is *not* still true today, I enjoyed watching surgery shows on tv (this was Puerto Rico and I have no idea why they showed surgeries on tv), hence the surgeon.

With the possible exception of teaching, I think that my choices were random and only slightly related to anything I was passionately interested in at the time (Wonder Woman was unfortunately not a career choice) They were more just possibilities that existed and therefore, open to me.   I don’t think that at any point in my childhood the thought “you can’t be everything or even just anything you want” ever entered my mind and when I looked in the mirror I only saw beauty and endless possibilities in my reflection.

Then a little thing called life happened and with it came the naysayers who one by one touched my reflection and left it smudged with fingerprints of their own doubts and their own fears.  I could no longer see myself clearly and saw no option but to slowly accept the distorted reflection before me.  The memories of the beauty and endless possibilities I had long ago seen reflected were all but faded, tucked away neatly in the corners of my mind waiting to be recalled.

But as memories are apt to be impatient, they conjure themselves unexpectedly, somehow knowing when we most need them. The memory of the naive child I was, slowly returned, and spent years wiping away the years of smudges of fear upon smudges of doubt that others, and even I, had left behind.  Slowly I began to see my reflection again and saw in my grown up eyes the faint image of the child who believed that she could be everything and anything and knew then that though that child was gone, her belief still lived in me and was a permanent part of me.

With my family at my college graduation

I have gained a renewed sense of self and with it have come new dreams and many lessons. I no longer want to be a ballerina/teacher/surgeon. I went to college and have since become an educator, a writer, a sometimes singer, an amateur photographer and most importantly a mentor.  In realizing that I am not alone I had to do something to reach out to the other children, other teenagers who just like I did, hear discouraging words and stop believing in their dreams. The world around them sets their bar low and tells them they are fools to try to reach past it.  I had to make sure that they understood their potential and had the tools to reach it.

I am thankful for the course of my life, had it gone differently I may not have been so inclined to be involved in the community and spend time encouraging others to do the same.  There are programs in almost every city and I encourage you to seek one out or create one of your own and make a difference in someone’s life.  After all, I was a statistic, but it in the end it turns out I was miscalculated.


How a 3rd grader changed my life


Although I spent my teenage years participating in volunteer projects at church and school, the story of how I became a passionate advocate for volunteer work didn’t begin until I was a young adult.

In 1995, at the age of 24 my place of employment offered any interested employee the opportunity to spend three hours of the work week tutoring children at nearby elementary schools. I jumped at the chance partly because I enjoyed working with children, but mostly because it was three hours I could spend away from the office.

I was assigned to a third grade class at a school in a low-income neighborhood. I remember clearly how nervous I was walking in to a classroom full of students. Their inquiring stares and not-so-hushed whispers curious to know about this stranger in their midst, only served to make me more nervous.  My mind raced with thoughts, “What was I doing here?  What had I gotten myself into?”  I was introduced and immediately assigned a student to take into the hall to begin tutoring. As third graders are apt to do, they will either be full of questions (what I was banking on) or they would be absolutely quiet.

My first student was the latter. I couldn’t get a word out of her and after 20 frustrating minutes, I took her back into the classroom and received my second assigned student.

I will never forget Jose. He began our conversation by telling me he had just celebrated his ninth birthday and then asked my age. When I told him I was 24, he responded, “You’re the same age as my mom.” As if his words had punched numbers on a calculator, my head did the math and figured out that his mother was all of 15 when he was born. I tried not to look shocked, moved on, and we continued to get to know each other. Before either of us knew it, our time was up and it was time for me to head to work. Jose hugged me goodbye and made me promise that I would return.

It was three days before I was able to return but in that time I couldn’t get the age of Jose’s mother out of my head.  At 24 I couldn’t imagine having a nine year old, and that life, that situation was so foreign to me.  It was in those three days between visits that I knew, those kids needed me.  I didn’t know why, but I just knew that they needed something that I had to give.

As I continued to visit I got to know more children, most whose names unfortunately I can’t remember. but whose innocent faces stay with me until this day.  They each came with a story, and I was able to somehow get past the walls they had built to get them to share them with me.  In our time together they shared their hopes, their dreams, and I in turn fell in love with each and everyone of them.

It is now 15 years later and it’s shocking to think that they are now all about the same age I was then.  I think about them and wonder what became of them.  Did they go to college? Did their childhood dreams come true?  Did Jose become the fireman or policeman he wanted to become.  I wonder if they remember me and if I made and impact, however small, in any of their lives and though I never actually got to the tutoring part of my assignment, I wonder if I taught them even half of what they taught me.

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