Ten years ago, I agreed to do something I had no business doing. And because of that decision, I may have completely altered the trajectory of the life of a young woman. Oops.
A friend who mentored with Take Stock In Children *strongly* encouraged me to volunteer because there was a “real need for young professional mentors.” She explained that they match deserving low-income students with mentors who meet with them at school once a week from middle through high school. The kids are held to academic and behavioral standards and upon graduation, they get a scholarship to the college or trade school of their choice. I had been at my first “real” job only a year and was a young single mother who hadn’t finished college. I was flattered that anyone thought I was a “young professional” or had the potential to be a positive role model.
After applying to be a mentor, I went through an interview process to ensure that I was matched with a child who was fit for my personality. I was shocked when I met my mentee, and she wasn’t a troubled goth kid with a safety pin stuck through her nose. Instead, they matched me with Elizabeth, a sweet smiley girl with big dreams and a love of makeup, children, and her family. They hadn’t matched me with someone who was like me when I was in school, they put me with a girl who matched my best self — the person I strive to be. That was the moment I realized I was a complete fraud. What advice could I give this girl? She didn’t need me messing her up. But I showed up for our weekly sessions where we chatted about everything, from boys to schoolwork to her big ever-changing plans.
TSIC provides all of its mentors with extensive ongoing training — which gave me more confidence as a mentor. As Elizabeth grew, I did, too. After taking on this role, I thought differently about every decision I made, from changing careers to getting healthy. It wasn’t just about supporting myself and my son anymore, I also wanted to deserve her as my mentee. While I sucked at helping her with her math homework, we really did enjoy our time together every week. Her senior year, my second child was born, and I brought my infant to all of our sessions, which was probably her favorite part of me being her mentor.
There were times that, had it not been for TSIC’s standards, she would have failed out of classes. There was the scare she wasn’t going to graduate on time and her commitment to TSIC pushed her to do the extra work to make it happen. Because of her scholarship, she got to go off to college and live in a dorm, one of the few things you can’t do later in life. She also had the opportunity to learn that college wasn’t for her.
When I found out she’d moved back home after just one semester, I was so disappointed. Not in her, but in myself. I felt like I had completely failed her. But I saw how much happier she was being near her family and finding her own way in the world.
Now I get the honor of mentoring her in a new capacity, one in which I feel far more capable — as a mom! She is expecting her first baby in a few weeks. Maybe having a baby at 20 isn’t what TSIC has in mind for its graduates, but we both got so much from the program. We have a lifelong friendship and now we are entering a new chapter — we get to be mom friends. And for anyone who may be worried, I assure you that this baby is just the first chapter of a fabulously successful adult life for Elizabeth. Take Stock In Children is holding her scholarship, and she plans to use it once the baby is born. I hope that if I showed Elizabeth anything, she saw that you can be a young mother and still get an education and build a career.
If you, too, would like to take the future into your own hands, Take Stock In Children is one of many organizations in the Jacksonville area who would love to have you as a mentor.