Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Be a mentor

For twenty-two years I've been a mom, but my younger child will graduate this spring and the house will get mighty quiet. Hmm, choices. I could become a pet nut, replacing teenage music with barking, chirping, or mewing. But I'd rather keep young energy in my life. That's why I took the daunting job of directing a high school chorus, and that's why I joined the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate Program.

A mentoring program pairs you with a kid who lives in disadvantaged circumstances but has a "spark" and can flourish with some extra help. We're not just friends (Big Buddies or Big Brothers) and not just tutors. We're also advocates for our kids in the school system. By having fun, talking about life, going places they (or we) have never been before, we try to inspire them to keep their eyes on the prize - for instance, on enjoying and staying invested in school through high school and then hopefully going to college.

More women BY FAR join this program than men, which is really a pity, because the world is often a dangerous and alienating place for a boy of color. If it's been too long since you threw a basketball or played pinball - or read a book with somebody small - maybe now's the time. Many of the men who are mentors are very busy professionals but still find time to share with a kid. If you can, you should.

This is a picture of my mentee and me last weekend when we went bowling free, courtesy of the Blue Ribbon Program. (I'm in the back there enjoying my incredibly comfortable bowling shoes, broken in by the 1,000s who went before.) We're both beginners. I was concentrating on getting up to the ramp and letting go of the ball without falling on my butt (which is what happened the only other time I went). She was so excited she kept asking me, "What time is it?" I usually ask that when I'm bored, but she was asking because she wanted to know how many more precious minutes she still had to enjoy ... It was huge fun, who knew?

What I also have been loving: clambering over rocks with her, and the way she laughs when she falls in the water; snuggling next to her on the sofa reading books I read to my daughter twelve years ago; baking gingerbread men and figuring out how to cut the recipe in half (fractions, her bete noire); teaching her to crochet.

Going ice skating with her was like watching all of childhood go by in two hours: first she clung to the wall; then she clung to my hand; then she held my hand more lightly and more distantly; then she let go of my hand to skate, solo, toward the wall; then she wanted us to skate side by side, not touching; then she wanted to race me; finally, she said "how about you go over there (observation seats) and WATCH me skate around the rink?" and at first she watched me constantly to see if I was watching, and then she just flew around without looking up at all. Sigh. How perfect.

Local info: this Chapel Hill/Carrboro program only takes new volunteers twice a year and March is one of those times, so if you're interested, or know somebody who might be, get in touch right now with Graig Meyer at 918-2170. I'd suggest you email him ( but the school system has a draconian spam filter and swallows our inquiries without even burping.

Graig Mayer, head of Chapel Hill Carrboro Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate Program, sent me the dates of training:
ThursdayMarch 37-9 pmProgram Orientation & Overview
SaturdayMarch 58:30- 4:00How to be a Great Mentor!
MondayMarch 75:30-9:00 pmSchool Advocacy
Please call Graig at 918-2170 for more information.

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At 3:52 PM, Blogger Sigmund, Carl and Alfred said...

'Incredibly comfortable..'- you negelected to mention 'stylish.'

Actually, the mentor idea is a good one. Very, very classy thing to do.

At 10:01 PM, Blogger Darkmoon said...

See Greensboro's teach-in:

Mentoring anyone that wants to learn to blog. :) FUN!

At 2:23 PM, Blogger Tutor Mentor Connections said...

I lead the Tutor/Mentor Connection, based in Chicago. At my web site I'm building a list of links to people who talk about their mentoring experiences. I've added your link to the site. You can learn more at


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