January is National Mentor Month, a topic clearly near and dear to the heart of PATH’s mission. Mentoring as a route for growth is one of the most important parts of what we do, and it was a big part of what drew me to this organization. The first time I really became familiar with mentoring was when I was in middle school and my church, Westminster Presbyterian, began a program called ”the Mentor Program”. Our congregation included several families whose children had special needs that a Sunday School teacher on their own couldn’t necessarily meet fairly. The group was formed as a sort of buddy system; several youth group members were assigned to work with the kids to make sure their needs were met and that they were able to get the full experience they deserved while at church. The Mentors weren’t “mini teachers” or classroom assistants, instead the relationship you’d form with your mentee was entirely unique. I am still very close with my mentee and his family. My first job out of high school actually was as his respite caregiver. Respite care is hard work, but having that strong pre-existing relationship made it one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.
I am lucky enough to have many mentors in my life, including the many community leaders who worked with me during my year in SLYCE (South Shore Leadership Youth for Community Engagement), the program where I first met Donna. SLYCE ultimately led me to my service term here at PATH, and therefore to my mentorship through LivTrue. Mentoring seems to frequently cause this sort of chain reaction, and therefore has that desirable multiplying effect that many good deeds do. Jeff Casey, director of the Towle Theater in Hammond, has been a mentor to me for over ten years, helping me grow into who I am not just as an artist but as a professional and a team member, too. My longest mentor, however, will always be my mom. The wisdom she has imparted onto me could fill an entire library and then some, and I will be so blessed if I am able to absorb even half of the enrichment she offers to me.
Of course, a teacher, supervisor, boss, parent, or other leader can be those things and simultaneously be a mentor; the mentorship includes, in addition to the traits of the other role, an authenticity to it that I feel creates the most organic kind of growth possible. While there is a mentor/mentee dynamic, the more personalized nature of this dynamic generates great possibilities for growth on both ends. Because the experience is more individualized, the relationship is able to exceed that which could be accomplished otherwise. During National Mentoring Month, I am filled with a sense of pride for the mentoring I have been able to accomplish, and even more so I am filled with gratitude for all the mentors in my life who have dedicated their time and talents to my growth.