The Basketball Diaries are on a bye week. But since the whole point is to encourage ya'll to Take The AB Challenge™ and work with our next generation of leaders, I thought this would be a good time to introduce you to someone who did just that. I.L.L. has been around as an occasional commenter since this site started (waaay back in 07') and shares her experience as a mentor in this very special Guest Post. As usual, show our guest some love you-know-where.]
Growing up, much ado was made about my academic achievements. I was at the top, or near the top of my elementary and middle school classes. When I was a little girl, my father, having decided that I was something special, had already chosen the prestigious parochial high school that I would attend when the time was right. In third grade, I was identified as a gifted student, further confirming my daddy's prideful suspicions. I excelled in high school, earning a number of scholarships to attend the college of my choice. (I love, I love, I love, I love my H-I-U!!) Very quickly, I built a reputation as a smart student and a great thinker. I graduated in the top 1% of my undergraduate class.
I say none of this in boastfulness. There is a point coming.
I grew up with two brothers. The older, after overcoming severe childhood asthma went on to become a star athlete. Everyone rejoiced in all his accomplishments. The younger, by the time he entered school, had teachers who had taught either me or my older brother, and who, incidentally, expected him to BE us. When he wasn't as athletic as my brother or as huge a nerd as me, no one expected much from him at all. And he fell through the cracks, labeled an underachiever. As an adult I truly believe many of my successes were often handed to me because people already thought I was capable of getting there on my own. That's why I was so impressed when our gracious host, AverageBro, threw down the gauntlet and challenged us to go make a difference in a child's life.
I wasn't impressed enough to actually DO it, though. Not until this past summer.
I am a community organizer in one of the most wildly diverse neighborhoods in the Twin Cities metro area. At one of our summer events, one of my colleagues arranged for a representative from a mentoring program to speak. The program targets those kids like my younger brother, sort of middle-of-the-road students who could really just use an extra push. The time commitment is just one hour a day, two days a month. I signed up that day to be a mentor for the program. I was matched with a 7th grade girl who liked sports and art.
As I drove to the school for our first meeting, I couldn't believe how insanely nervous I was. Like, first date nervous. Here I was, going to meet a middle school student, and I was worried about whether or not she would like me. Would she think I was cool? Would she WANT to talk to me? My heart continued to pound while I walked to the school office, introduced myself, and requested that my student be called out of class. While waiting, I lamely began to practice some ice-breakers that I might use. We are SUPPOSED to have a folder with a questionnaire filled out by the student to help with that first conversation. My folder wasn't ready yet. Shoot! She walked in, greeted me with a nonchalant smirk, and we had our first meeting. I'm pretty sure I bombed, but we made a schedule for my future visits.
On the next visit, I was a little more at ease. I had the folder, class schedule, and an idea of what classes she was struggling in a bit. We talked about family, her extra-curricular activities, and ultimately why she thought she was having a tough time with these particular classes. Then I prepared myself for a lot of resistance. It was time to talk about a plan--what she was willing to do to make her grades better, who she could check in with to keep her on track, and how to work past certain distractions. I mean, at 12 years old, it's all the teacher's fault, right? WRONG! Our first goal was to get her almost failing history grade up to a C by the end of the term.
The visits became easier and easier. Her nonchalant smirk eventually became a noncommittal smile. Her habit of staring at her hands eventually became updates on family and having made the basketball team. She even let me borrow her favorite book to read. Through it all, my mentee was not the least bit resentful of being checked up on or being held accountable for her own shortcomings. She's just glad to have someone there not only saying, "I know you can do better!" but equipping her with the tools to do better. It feels amazing to be that person and watch her progress.
We're only a few months into this relationship, but things are going well. The end of the term was January 23rd. We got a C! And at our next meeting, my mentee asked me, "i.l.l., can we make a plan for my science class?" We can. And we did.
Question: How much of an impact can mentors really have on a child's life? Have you ever been or considered being a mentor? Is I.L.L.'s experience working with kids more encouraging and inspiring than AB's hapless stint as a basketball coach? What would it take to get YOU to Take The AverageBro Challenge™?
 Note: the photo above is neither I.L.L. nor the mentee.