The Best Part of My Week

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If you follow me on Instagram and watch my stories, then by now, you probably know that I have been mentoring an 11-year old girl since the beginning of the year. I’ve been asked a lot of questions about it, so I thought I would tell you about the best part of my week!

Why I Became a Mentor

I decided to become a mentor in Spring 2016 in the midst of the utterly depressing and horrible primary season. I was feeling really down about the things some of the politicians were saying, and I was worried about how kids from minority backgrounds, impoverished families, immigrant backgrounds, etc would feel. I was really struggling to rectify what they were saying with what I grew up believing about the country I grew up in. But, since AJ has yet to agree to move overseas, it looks like I’ll be in America for awhile. Therefore, I decided I needed to do something to make a difference at home – even if it only helped one person.

How I Became a Mentor

I started looking into different mentoring programs and was a little overwhelmed by the different types of mentorships and their requirements. At the time I applied, I was teaching a ton of barre classes, working a lot of overtime, and of course, traveling. While I would have loved to commit to a mentorship program like Big Brothers Big Sisters or Boys and Girls Club, the time commitment (several hours multiple days a week) didn’t feel realistic to me. I really wanted to be consistent and be able to be there for my mentee, and I hated the idea of having to cancel. For me, it made sense to start small and add more time if I had it available. I found a program called Mentor Upstate that works with schools in the upstate counties of South Carolina and knew it was the right fit. You commit to eating lunch (half an hour) once a week with a child at a school that is convenient to your work or home. That’s it. Mentors are free to add on extra time if they choose to, but it’s not required. So, I applied to the program and then attended a one-hour training session. I had two background checks done (only one is required, but I became a “Level 2” volunteer so that I could work with my student one on one. After that, it was time to wait to be matched! Unfortunately, due to repeated changes in the school system staff, that took a long time. I didn’t get matched until January 2017, but I’m told that’s not at all common.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was really nervous about becoming a mentor. I am obviously not a parent, so I wondered what kids even do or like! I was a weird, nerdy, and very “adult” kid even when I was very small, and I had a hard time connecting to other kids my age sometimes. If it was hard as a kid, how hard would it be as an adult? I asked my friends who were parents what we should talk about, and I picked out my outfit so carefully on that first day! As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about (and yes, asking kids about their pets is a great way to get a conversation going).

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What Types of Kids Do Mentors Help?

As I learned in training, all different types of kids need mentoring! Basically, any kid that could use a little extra attention from an adult is eligible. Some students may have difficulties at home: their parents may be going through a divorce, they may have recently lost a family member, they may be in foster care, etc. Others are struggling to make friends in class, experiencing behavioral issues, or are struggling with a learning disability that makes it challenging to concentrate. Some kids – like my student – just need a little extra help with their school work in order to catch up. There are all different reasons! I’ve been fortunate to get to know many of the kids in my student’s class, and they are all fantastic kids.

What Do You Do While You’re There?

In theory, I could go eat lunch with my student once a week and just talk to her – that’s all mentoring requires, and for some students, it may be exactly what they need. After spending a few hours with my student, I learned that she needs academic assistance in reading and spelling because her family is non-English speaking at home. Although she speaks English fluently, she has a hard time learning new words because her only exposure to English is at school. So, I spoke to her teacher to come up with a plan of action. Now, I go at least once a week (sometimes twice) to have lunch with her, and then we work on reading and spelling for half an hour to 45 minutes. I’m not a teacher, so I’m not doing anything groundbreaking – we just read books to each other and I help her with her spelling exercises. Some kids might just need someone to talk to, while some may need more help on the academic side of things.

How Long Does it Last?

Mentor Upstate encourages mentors to develop long-term relationships with their students. While you officially commit to mentoring a child through one school year, some mentors stick with their student all the way through high school. While mentoring during the summer is not required, it is an option if you are interested and your child’s parents agree to it. I’m definitely planning on sticking with my student for as long as I can, and we are working out plans to meet up this summer!

What Difference Does it Make?

One thing that was impressed upon us in training is how important undivided attention from an adult who cares can be to a child. For kids from volatile home situations, or even just kids whose parents work long hours and are not around a lot, a caring adult who pays attention to them can mean the world. My student comes from an amazing, hardworking, and tight knit family, but she struggles in some areas at school. Having someone there to work with her on areas where she has a hard time, in a non-threatening environment, helps develop her confidence.

Make a difference in a child's life and become a mentor! @thetrexrunner did and it's the best part of her week. Click To Tweet

One recent moment really stands out to me. A few weeks ago, I went to mentoring on our usual day (Tuesday) and noticed that Field Day was the following day. Way back when I first started mentoring in January/February, I told my student that I would come to Field Day if she wanted me to. So, when I asked her the day before Field Day if she was excited about the next day’s activities, she said “Yes! I can’t wait! You’re coming, right? You said you would!” “Of COURSE!” I said, and she beamed. It was at that moment that I realized that my commitment to her and my promises really matter. To all of these kids, having someone who is there for them and keeps their word is important. It means even more to them than better grades on their homework and tests!

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Me and my student at Field Day! (Yes, I have permission to use her picture!) It was approximately 1000 degrees. My shirt and shorts are from KUHL

I can virtually guarantee that there is a program like Mentor Upstate somewhere near you, and I can’t encourage you enough to look into it! Meeting with my student is truly the best part of my week, and I love learning about her life and seeing her grow and increase her confidence. You don’t have to be a tutor, a savior, a social worker, a bank or a parent…you just have to be there!

LEAVE A COMMENT: Have you ever mentored? Does it sound like something that would interest you?

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20 thoughts on “The Best Part of My Week

  1. The thing I love most about this is that you took action! You don’t necessarily like what is going on politically (who does? it’s scary as hell!) and instead of just complaining and worrying (like me) you actually did something to help improve what you could. I love that about you. Seriously.

    1. I complained and worried for years, haha! I still do. But I just hated feeling helpless and decided that I had to do something to make a difference, even if it was small. I’m so glad I did!

  2. I have mentored before and honestly I think it’s such a benefit to those who need it. It’s always beneficial for one child to realize how much an adult truly does care for them, you know? You cannot halfass undivided attention. I love this and thank you for sharing!

    1. I definitely think mentoring is important for those who need it, but I have gained so much from it, too! It’s really been interesting to interact with kids on a more personal basis than I am used to, since I don’t have children. I’ve enjoyed getting to know all the kids in her class – they are really fun!

    1. You should look into it! I’m sure there is a similar program in Chicago, and it really isn’t a huge time commitment.

  3. I did the same thing for the same reasons! I found a Girls, Inc. location near me in January and I’m working on the college shower committee to set the outgoing seniors up for success at college with school and dorm supplies. Most of these girls will be the first in their family to go to college. It feels amazing to help out!

    1. That is amazing, Jami! Good for you for taking action! It’s so important to have support in college – it can be tough on anyone. Thanks for bringing attention to Girls, Inc – that’s a very worthy cause!

  4. Thank you so much for posting about your experience!! I literally was just thinking about this last week after hearing a story on the radio about a student struggling at school because of family issues at home, but had all the same fears that you talked about. I was also a quirky kid growing up (well, and let’s face it – I’m also a quirky adult these days too), and don’t have kids myself, so I felt like there was no way I’d be qualified. But now you have me googling mentorship programs in my area 🙂

    1. Yay, Noelle! I am so glad to hear that!! Honestly, we don’t spend that much time talking about me, so there is less chance for my weirdness to come out 🙂 I ask her a lot of questions and we work on school work together. It’s really just about being there and listening! You can do it!!

  5. This is an excellent round-up of your experience, in a way that can help others find their own way!

    We have long sought to volunteer as a way to give back – and to show our kids just how fortunate they are. And as you say, last year really cemented the need to try to make life better for those who already deal with so much.

    I’m so glad you have been able to do this and to get so much out of it!

    1. Thanks, Michael! It has been a great experience. For me, the hardest part of volunteering was getting started. Would I make a difference? Would she like me? All of those were concerns and they proved to be unfounded.

  6. Danielle, this is the best!
    I’ve been tutoring in accounting for about a year, and I really love it. It makes me feel good to help an upcoming student. Sometimes we talk technical issues, and sometimes we talk about the challenges of the profession, and I’ve found it to be really fulfilling.

    1. Thanks, Ange! I am so glad you are enjoying tutoring. It really is a rewarding and fulfilling experience!

  7. This is full of amazing and awesome! Love that you have been matched with this girl!! Hope you both have a fantastic summer of adventures!

  8. I love this! I’ve always wanted to be a mentor to a young girl. I tried to apply to be a big Sister in college, but they already had so many, they wouldn’t even take any new applications. You’ve motivated me to look into it, and see how I can help out!

    1. You would be an AMAZING mentor, Patty! Please look into it! You are already a mentor to me 🙂

  9. What a wonderful way to volunteer your time. I used to volunteer with Big Brothers/Big Sisters but when my little moved to another province, I declined to look for another match. I had moved into another department at work and the time commitment was just too much.

    1. That’s amazing, AndreaClaire! Big Brothers/Big Sisters is a huge time commitment, but I’d imagine you see incredible results and progress.

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