Becoming a “Very Best Thing”

Seedling KidsI read Ken Herman’s column this morning in the Austin American Statesman, and the power of mentoring hit me once more.

You can read it here.

I hope that Mr. Herman’s friend and mentee can work something out and stay in touch, but the reality is, these are kids whose lives are in chaos. Whether the move comes for a better job or cheaper rent for their care-giving parent, they have been passed on to yet another relative, or even if it is due to the vagaries of the foster care system…it really doesn’t matter. It is another uprooting and another chance for abandonment for these children who have a parent in prison.

I started mentoring this year, after nearly a decade of helping provide opportunities for others to mentor and supporting the best site based and research driven program I know of; Seedling Mentor Program.

Why did I wait so long?  

Well, based on my experiences with another mentoring program many years ago, I thought I wasn’t good at it. You see, I had been thrown into an incredibly difficult situation pool with little preparation, training or support, and I drowned.

In my previous experience, my first mentee announced to me at the end of the 7th grade year we had spent together that she had “decided to flunk 7th grade.” I was appalled and said all of the wrong things to her. She then decided she “didn’t need a mentor any more.” She explained to me that flunking meant she would have to go to summer school, where she would “get food every day, see her friends, and avoid her older sister’s boyfriend.” Wow. The water slipped even deeper over my head. I didn’t feel there was anything I could do and that I must have failed to be a good mentor.

I was talked into taking on the second mentee, and again, was totally out of my depth. She had serious issues and had adapted by becoming an extremely manipulative person. She was in this mentoring relationship for what she perceived she could get out of me, and I had no tools or strategies for setting healthy boundaries. After months of becoming more and more uncomfortable with the situation, I fled mentoring and vowed I would never do it again.

God laughs at “never.”

When the Board of Seedling Foundation decided to create a mentoring program at the request of Austin ISD Principals who had an ever-growing population of extremely at-risk students, but no program that specifically addressed their needs, my opportunity to change things arrived. I was the President of the Board, and I asked that if we went into this area, that we do things differently and invest our resources in the mentoring adults. My thinking was that mentors could, and should be a self-renewing and expanding resource, but due to inadequate training and support, our society was simply wasting them. They came when called, had a questionable or terrible experience, and like me, they never mentored again.

Seedling’s Founder, John Blazier, and the rest of the Board listened, and Seedling Mentor program was born. With the direction of a staff of experienced counseling professionals, it has become an amazingly successful program.

But enough about the past. Let’s talk about now, when I am mentoring a first grader who has sparkling brown eyes, the personality to match, and an imagination that delights me every time we spend lunch time together. Milk cartons become princesses, and chicken nuggets become “booty,” to be gleefully scooped up and savored. I bring baby carrots with me, and together we are bunnies for a few minutes, imagining what sounds bunnies would make as they munched.

A couple of weeks ago, I tried a little game that another mentor with Seedling had recommended. It is called “The Best and The Worst,” and you ask each other what was the very best thing that happened to you all week and what was the very worst thing that happened to you all week.

I explained the game to her and asked her, “What was the very best thing that happened to you last week?” She looked at me with a very serious look on her face, and said…”When you came.”

I was stunned. As I left that day and reflected over the next week or so, it just kept amazing me that I was someone’s “very best thing.” How many times in our lives do we get that chance?

I am a mentor.  Join me and be a special little someone’s “very best thing.”

March 22, 2014 Update:  An shortened version of this post appears in Story Circle Network’s “One Woman’s Day” blog.

2 thoughts on “Becoming a “Very Best Thing”

  1. Pingback: Life Lessons from Mentoring | Kali's OQM Musings

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