January is National Mentoring Month. Our big thanks to guest blogger and SC Campaign Evaluation Staff Member, Ms. Lesley Craft, MPH, CHES, PhD Candidate, Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior Department, University of South Carolina, for contributing a great piece to increase awareness of the benefits of mentoring.
I have had the incredible opportunity to serve as a mentor for the past five years to the sweetest and most amazing young lady I know. Alexis (Lexi) and I met when she was a cute, shy 7-year-old and we have been inseparable ever since. I started the mentoring program back in 2007 as part of an initiative through a local school district to try to reduce high school dropout rates. The program was built on the premise that maybe, just maybe, pairing young children with caring adults could make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of our youth. The program did not ask for a lot from the mentors; it merely asked that I visit Lexi’s school and eat lunch with her at least once a week.
That first year was spent gaining the confidence of Lexi and her friends. I listened to their secrets; we giggled and laughed, had inside jokes, and played tag at recess. Over time, I began tutoring Lexi a few times per week after school and during the summers. I gained the trust of her family and we grew together in our “village” of support for Lexi. Alexis and I went on special outings, from sporting events to art museums and everything in between. I taught her how to knit, we baked, we had slumber parties, and we watched every Justin Bieber video ever made.
I had always wanted to be a mentor, and I love kids, but the final push for me to start mentoring was the unexpected death of my father. My dad died two weeks before my 25th birthday, and I was devastated. My dad was an incredible, loving, funny, considerate man, and I was lost without his influence in my life. Over the course of that year, I tried to make sense of his death and what it meant for me. Instead of continuing to wallow in my self-pity, I decided to do the only thing that always made me feel better – to start volunteering again and do something for someone else. I can’t express how life-changing and probably life-saving my mentoring relationship has been. In my darkest hour, I was able to find solace and hope in the smile of an innocent young girl.
Throughout the years Alexis and I have developed a strong and undeniable bond. She trusts me completely and I will do everything in my power to make sure I never lose her trust. Since the time she was little, I have made it a point to give factual and non-judgmental answers to all of her questions. In fact, “that’s a great question,” is one of my favorite phrases, especially when it comes to anything related to sex/relationships. Working in the field of sex education/teen pregnancy prevention, I have strived to have ongoing conversations about sex, relationships, self-esteem, body-image, and goal-setting with Lexi for years. Alexis has always known that I am comfortable talking about sex and that I often bring it up, but I also stress that she can come to me when she has questions. And she does. Just last week, she texted me what she learned in her health class. They just started their sexuality education curriculum and she wanted to tell me all about it. She had additional questions and we spent the next hour texting about birth control.
I am truly honored and excited to be a part of Lexi’s life. She is a smart, kind, thoughtful, beautiful person, and I am lucky to know her. I am thankful for the life opportunities that I have been given and the opportunity to share my experiences with someone else. I am so proud of the woman she is becoming, and I am excited to see where her life leads.