One of the best things I did in college was mentor a young at-risk child. I think it helped him but I know it helped me.
LAUSD’s New Youth Mentorship Program
LAUSD announced recently that it would begin a youth mentorship program called, “Everyone Mentors”. According to their webpage, LAUSD has identified more than 27,000 students who would benefit from youth mentorship. Their website has a sign-up form for people interested in joining the program.
The YWCA Mentorship Program
One of the most valuable things I did in college was join the YWCA Youth Mentorship Program at UC Berkeley. The Youth Mentor Program pairs an at-risk youth with a UC Berkeley student mentor. As a mentor, I offered academic support, field trips, cultural experiences, and engaged in community service projects.
In addition to the program I joined, the YWCA offers three additional mentoring programs:
Racial Justice and Advocacy Program at YWCA Berkeley/Oakland
The Racial Justice and Advocacy Program advocates for reproductive welfare, promotes voting rights, and provides communal educational resources, through a gender-informed and anti-racist lens. Our team hosts local community events across Berkeley and Oakland that include: education, reproductive rights, legislation, healing, and leading through listening. We are currently reaching out to local schools to provide free menstrual products and anti-racist education.
TechGYRLS Mentor Program
TechGYRLS* is an after-school STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math]
program in Oakland and Berkeley Unified School Districts. Mentors empower girls* by building interest in STEAM careers, teaching about female* scientists, and hands-on science projects.
Economic Empowerment Program
Empowerment and Leadership programs at the YWCA Berkeley/Oakland address the growing need to teach personal finance, digital skills, and job skills to young women* in order to increase their financial independence and economic success.
My Experience as a Youth Mentor
I initially wanted to become a Big Sister to young at-risk girls in the local Berkeley Unified School District. However, when I joined, organizers asked if I would be willing to work with a young boy because there were so many more young boys who needed mentors. At the time there were around 87 young boys and 16 young girls who had signed up. Although I had never considered the idea, once I saw the numbers I could not resist.
My Mentee: A Boy Named “M”
I met a young boy named, “M”. He was 11 at the time. He was tall for his age, almost 5’6”. He was soft spoken and very polite. M had a single mother and there were four brothers in total. M was the third child. M and his brothers had different fathers, though the younger brother’s dad often picked up the two youngest boys weekend visits. His mom was Hispanic and his dad was half Black and half South East Asian. They all looked completely different from each other but I could tell they had a strong bond together.
M told me that his mom had to drive far each day for work and his dad was in and out of the picture. M told me his older brother was mostly in charge of helping him with his day-to-day life, like getting to school, making dinner, and completing homework assignments. M’s brother had just turned 18 at the time so it was a lot for him to handle three younger siblings. I learned from M’s older brother that M’s dad was in and out of prison.
Right away M and I got along. He would tell me about things that I had not considered, nor experienced, before. M was on academic probation and one step away from being kicked out of middle school. M didn’t necessarily like to get in trouble but he often got in trouble. He told me about the time he slept on a park bench at age eight, and the first time he tried drinking. Looking back at how young I was, I did not fully appreciate how dangerously he lived. Not intentionally, but as a matter of circumstance. When we think of children who stuck in specific language registers, we are thinking of children like M.
I would talk to M about why he was choosing to do those things. He would tell me that he did things that sounded fun and I would ask him if his brother or his mom would be happy if they found out. Most of the time he would say, “no” or that he hadn’t thought about those things when he made choices. Slowly he began talking about making better choices.
An Important Experience
One time M cheated on his girlfriend. He must’ve been about 12 at the time. I asked him how he would feel if someone had done that to me. He said he would “punch him in the face”. I asked him how he thought the young girl’s family would feel if they found out. He said they probably wouldn’t like him very much if they found out. I told him he needed to be better for her. I like to think about important conversations like this often.
How Often Should You Meet a Mentee?
We would hang out about once a week, if not more often. One time we did the Fenton’s challenge together and each ate 3 lbs of ice cream in order to win a free t-shirt. Occasionally we went to museums or the movies. Sometimes we would just hang out at my apartment and do homework and play video games after school.
By his freshman year he was playing football on the varsity team. He must’ve been close to 6’ tall. He was so tall! He was keeping his grades up and on a better trajectory. M was responsible for the changes he made in his life, however I am glad I was there with him. I am glad I got to know him. I think about him often and the man he has become. M has a family and he seems to have stability. He works hard. I am proud of him.
Now that I teach middle school in South Central Los Angeles, I meet many kids like M. I can’t spend time with them in the way I spent time with M. I see my students only in the context of teaching, but I do hope they have adults in their lives to help them talk through their big choices.
I don’t know what the LAUSD program will be like. LAUSD doesn’t always land the execution of ideas but if the program works, it will likely touch the lives of so many kids in need of a strong adult presence. I highly recommend mentorship of any kind, if you have the time. It is one of the most worthwhile things I’ve done in my life so far.