I have mentioned before that I mentor with an amazing program called Seedling Mentoring Program. My mentee is an 8-year-old Latina who is a child of an incarcerated parent. She is a sweet, smart little girl who has a vivid imagination and a load of potential, but she is also surrounded by barriers.
Barriers like poverty, a single parent family and being a young woman in a culture that can sometimes value family formation over educational achievement. She loves and cares for her family, even at this young age. In a note to her father, she wrote, “I am taking good care of the baby.” She was referring to her younger sister, that she adores.
As part of the Seedling training, we were taught to look at our mentee’s lives with a positive eye. This means identifying the existing developmental assets in her life that will affect her in a positive way.
You see, it is very typical for those of us who volunteer, to see things in our own economic paradigm and to want to change or “fix things” in our mentee’s life to match it. It never works, and will actually damage the relationship. Seedling teaches us that we must look for the positive assets in their life and reinforce them. It is a totally different perspective.
For example, my mentee has a mother who loves her (and a father, too, although he is not present right now), sisters to play with, a baby to help care for, and other relatives in her life I know little about. She comes to school every single day (perfect attendance award!). She is always appropriately dressed and it is obvious that someone has taken the time to fix her hair. She is confident and outgoing, and someone in her life has to be saying supportive things for that to be the case. She goes to a school that is well equipped, caring and provides structure and education. That’s a lot of assets!
I know all of these things through training and getting to know her, and still, sometimes she takes me by surprise.
For Halloween I gave her a pumpkin card (she reads them to me so that is our tradition), a little shoestring bracelet I made for her with Halloween colors that spelled out her name, and six cookies and cream Hershey’s kisses. Seedling emphasizes to their mentors that gifts should always be small and inexpensive so that the mentee never thinks of us as simply a gift giver.
She read the card with glee, put on her bracelet proudly and then looked at the kisses.
“Six!” she exclaimed, “You gave me one for each of my family!”
Her face lit up and I got the very first hug of our relationship. Not for the card, not for the bracelet, not even for the candy…but for the understanding I showed by giving her enough for everyone.
Lesson learned, my little friend; lesson learned.