Making the Most of Spring Mentoring

Ending Strong by Remaining Curious - How to make the most of Spring Mentoring

“What we want to tell, we wish our friend to have curiosity to hear.”  Samuel Richardson

Mentor and MenteeThree weeks in April and four in May: there are only seven more visiting opportunities before the school year concludes, and your communication with your mentee takes a summer break. With the end drawing near, your mentee could be experiencing a variety of positive and negative emotions, such as pressure to improve grades, excitement about end­of-year activities, anxiety about summer unknowns, and so on. Sometimes physical and emotional weariness – from the mentee or the mentor –can lead to those “dial-tone days” when visits feel flat and unrewarding. How can you keep your relationship progressing and satisfying for you both?

Dr. Julia Pryce tells us the key is mentor attunement, defined as the adult capacity to remain curious about a child. The idea of curiosity naturally makes us think of asking questions. While well-placed open-ended questions can play an important part, remaining curious refers more to creating safety and interest around what the mentee has to say. Dr. Pryce advises that we can improve our attunement through keeping these five skills in mind1:

Active listening – expressing interest or appreciation for the mentee’s sharing, repeating back what you heard, allowing the mentee to name the feeling (although sometimes you may need to help with the words), remaining compassionate and nonjudgmental, allowing the mentee time to think.

Maintaining eye contact – giving undivided attention, turning toward your mentee and keeping open posture, sitting at your mentee’s level.

Identifying and responding to mentee’s nonverbal as well as verbal cues – “Hmm, you seem to be frowning. I wonder why?” or, “My, that’s a heavy sigh,’ or “I noticed you’re looking out the window a lot,” or “Wow, you have a big smile today!”

Maintaining flexibility – discussing and trying to honor requests to switch days or end an activity in favor of another one.

Soliciting youth ideas regarding activities – Consider mapping out with your mentee how s/he would like to spend the remaining seven visits. You could ask the question just like that, or offer two or three choices, or put the ideas on strips of paper for the mentee to draw, or take turns deciding for the next time. Need some fresh ideas?

Try one of these:


Here are a few other tips to ending strong this year.

Seedling's Promise Heart

  • Stay true to your commitment by visiting every week.
  • Take time to celebrate. Plan a time to talk with your mentee about the highlights of your year together.
  • Realistic promises are best. Example: “I really, really hope we get to continue in September.”
  • Observe program rules and boundaries; avoid bending them just to keep your mentee engaged.
  • Next month’s Mentor Minute will offer more ideas about issues that can arise in May.
  • Get input from your Mentor Director. S/he is always glad to hear from you.

Looking forward to a wonderful spring,  a great Mentor Appreciation Event next month, and we are always thankful for you!

~Seedling’s Promise Staff



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Seedling – The People’s Choice!

Seedling Foundation and Bright Giant Creative Group

Seedling Foundation and Bright Giant Creative Group

Seedling Foundation was recently chosen to receive a custom video from a professional production company as part of Lights. Camera. Help. nonprofit’s “Reel Change Film Frenzy” competition and festival.

We were honored to be one of ten Austin nonprofits chosen, but really had no idea what was involved.  It turned out to be a fun and extremely rewarding experience! Our production company was Bright Giant Creative Group, and Jason and Christina Smith and Angelique Harkin were joys to work with.  They only had a few days to pull together script, participants, filming, scoring and post-production.  It was amazing!

The big day of the “Reel Change Film Frenzy” arrived, and it was standing room only at Alamo Drafthouse – Slaughter Lane.  Aaron Bramley, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Lights. Camera. Help. opened the program and the videos began.

We laughed, we cried, we applauded both the film makers who had done so much in so little time, and the nonprofits whose work was lauded and revealed in the videos. After the last video, the judges retired momentarily to make their decision, and then Aaron announced the “People’s Choice” award, based on being chosen as the audience’s favorite video. He paused dramatically, and then intoned, “Seedling Foundation by Bright Giant Creative Group!”

I was sitting with a few folks from Seedling, and we all just looked at each other in amazement and joy.  What a feeling!  We loved the video, but didn’t realize how much it was touching others in the audience.  The judge’s prize went to a pug rescue organization, but we were not disappointed at all.  How could we be?  Thanks to the creative genius of Bright Giant, we were now owners of a fabulous video that presented our mission to the world in a way that informed while it inspired.

We couldn’t be more proud, and we are honored to share the video with you. Congratulations and thanks to our new friends at Bright Giant Creative Group.

~Kali’ P. Rourke, Seedling Foundation Board of Directors


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Seeing Seedling From the Inside

Re-blogged from the UT VISTA Blog
February 3, 2014
Adrian Smith Seedling Volunteer Coordinator

Adrian Smith

As I approach the halfway point of my year as a VISTA, and as a recruiter, I’ve long since gotten the elevator pitch for my organization memorized: “The Seedling Foundation is a nonprofit mentor program for the children of incarcerated parents in Austin.” What that encompasses, however, is much more difficult to convey in such a short message. Over 500 children in Austin have Seedling mentors, but that is only a fraction of even the most conservative estimates of the number of children of the incarcerated in and around the city.  There are social and legal support systems for children who lose parents by way of divorce or death; many of those who lose parents to incarceration are at best ignored or not considered, and at worst ostracized and stigmatized for a situation that they have no control over. The kids that we help are some of the kindest, most insightful people I’ve ever met, and I’m thrilled that part of my job includes spending time with one each week while also helping others get the support that they need.

I became a VISTA very much by accident. I wanted to do a small amount of volunteer work after college, so I looked into becoming a Seedling mentor, found that they had a volunteer position available, and jumped at the opportunity. The half-hour per week commitment I originally sought became full-time. I couldn’t have made a better decision. The moments that I’ve had personally as a mentor have been some of the most fulfilling that I can remember, and helping to enable others to have those same experiences has been truly rewarding. Seeing a child’s face light up while playing a game or talking about their day, and knowing that you had something to do with it, is amazing. I was told before I began my year that you get more out of your time as a VISTA than you could ever put in, and that’s certainly been the case. In my relatively brief time here, I’ve made new friends, learned the day-to-day challenges and successes inherent to operating a nonprofit, gained professional skills, and have, most importantly, begun to make a direct difference to at least one great kid, and hopefully indirectly to a few others. There have certainly been ups and downs; we’ve all had days where everything comes together perfectly and others where nothing seems to go right; days where we feel like we’ve made an impact and others where we aren’t so sure. What keeps me coming back, without fail, is the knowledge that I have friends who are going through the same things that I am, and people who will be there for me when I need them.

Part of our effort to alleviate poverty is to live at the poverty level. Financial difficulty is nothing new for me, though the process of learning what forms of assistance are available, and how difficult or easy many are to access, has been enlightening. Despite my willingness to live at the poverty line, no matter how difficult it gets, I always know in the back of my mind that I chose to do this voluntarily, that I am doing this for one year, and that I don’t have the pressure of having to support others on limited finances. The real learning experience, however, has been seeing the work that goes into running a nonprofit, particularly one with such a small staff. The dedication that I see from each of my coworkers, and the children that they help, keeps me motivated to do the work that I do. The people  I work with every day are some of the nicest, most caring people  I’ve ever known, and though I can’t fathom why they would have someone like me on board, I appreciate them, all the same. Working here has made me see the city that I live in, and hope to continue to live in, as well as its population, in a new light – and I think that I am becoming a better person for it.

~Adrian Smith, Seedling Foundation VISTA Volunteer Recruitment Coordinator




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When Children Have No Say

Sad Child of Incarcerated Parents“The children of prisoners are guaranteed nothing. They have committed no crime, but the penalty they are required to pay is steep. They forfeit, too often, much of what matters to them: their homes, their safety, their public status and private self-image, their primary source of comfort and affection. Their lives and prospects are profoundly affected by the multiple institutions that lay claim to their parents—police, courts, jails and prisons, probation and parole—but they have no rights, explicit or implicit, within any of these jurisdictions.”

The text above is from the publication Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Bill of Rights, an initiative of the San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership. The concepts it contains formed the basis of the January monthly mentor training, led by Seedling Foundation Executive Director Sari Waxler. Click here for this 20-page booklet.

Seedling Foundation Mentor Training

Seedling Executive Director Sari Waxler welcomes Seedling Mentors to the January Training Luncheon

The back cover has a summary of the Bill of Rights and their explanation, but it is the facts and narratives within that create our understanding of the special world of the children we serve. The SFCIPP website has additional information about advocacy as well.

Award winning writer and actor Daniel Beaty has captured the pain and loss of a child with an incarcerated parent in his moving spoken word, Knock, Knock. This poignant account shares a young man’s pain and resilience as he imagines his incarcerated father’s words, helping him heal. This short video can evoke powerful emotions, so we recommend that you choose a good time to view it. Feel free to reach out to your Mentor Director or other Seedling staff to process it with you.

What happens in our community? The Austin Police Department has implemented a child endangerment/child-in-need-of-supervision checklist to ensure the safety of children during the arrest of a parent or caregiver. The checklist includes steps for the safe placement of the child, and consultation and follow-up with child protective series as necessary by APD.

These processes put into place by our law enforcement safe guard against our most vulnerable children being marginalized and invisible during the arrest of a parent in their presence. The Victims Services Unit of the Travis County Sheriff’s Office has created a brochure for caregivers on Child Sensitive Arrests that is provided to the family member at the time of arrest. Click Here to view the brochure.

We are fortunate to live in a community with some progressive thought on what should be the rights of children whose parents become involved in the justice system, but there is still work to be done. One local group is the Austin-Travis County Re-entry Roundtable. Their mission is to be a robust, community-wide collaborative and catalyst for systemic change that educates, facilitates, and advocates to promote public safety through effective reentry and reintegration of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated persons. Participation by any community member is welcome.

~Seedling’s Promise Staff

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The Gift of the Mentor

Seeding GiftThe holidays are a special time in the Seedling’s Promise Mentoring Program, where our mentors walk the delicate line of giving in a poverty dominated culture.  

Luckily, Seedling’s Promise Mentor Directors are there supporting mentors with training, one on one advice and the encouragement that makes both mentors and mentees comfortable with the holiday and opens doors to communication and relationship.

This is the time of year when most of us treasure anew the warm and cozy home we share with people we love…but what if those people weren’t there?

What if there was no cozy home?

What if the future wasn’t merry and bright and presents were hard to come by?

These are the realities that many of our children of incarcerated parents face.  They are often in foster care or being looked after by relatives.  They are often the “extra” people in the room and live a life full of upsetting transitions…from house to house, caregiver to caregiver, and school to school.

What can you do to help?

A gift of any amount will help and for a gift of $60 per month, YOU can sponsor a child to be matched with a mentor for a full school year.

Donate to SeedlingThank you, in advance for supporting our important work with this vulnerable group of children who live right here in Austin.

`Sari Waxler, Founding Executive Director


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Measuring Impact in Mentoring

Measurement Graphs

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan /

There is an old saying in the nonprofit world…”If you can’t measure it; you can’t fund it.”  It probably isn’t true in all cases, but when Seedling’s Promise was envisioned back in 2005, the program was based on research and included metrics from the beginning.

Seedling’s Promise undergoes a rigorous evaluation by an independent professional each year.  The results are posted on our web site and presented to the Board and other stakeholders.

The Board of Seedling Foundation is proud to share them with you.

Seedling’s Promise 2012-2013 Program Evaluation by Karen Looby, PhD.

Each year, we were able to add a little more depth and complexity to our measurements and this year we had the numbers available to do direct peer group to peer group comparisons.  Some outcomes were expected (Over 75% retention rate in our mentors, high satisfaction ratings from mentees, mentors, school contacts and caregivers, and increasing numbers of mentors who are trained and supported by Seedling.), but there were some unexpected outcomes, as well.

We are affecting academic performance in a positive way with a program that has never been presented as a tutoring or teaching program.  Seedling’s Promise mentored schoolchildren performed better on academic testing than their counterparts who were on a waiting list for our services.  Apples to apples; school based mentoring through Seedling’s Promise is having a positive academic outcome.

We are excited for the children in the program and very proud of the caring adults that make up our mentoring force.  

Seedling's Promise Heart

A few quotes from 2013:

“One day I was running late, and so when I arrived at the school, my mentee was already in line for lunch. When she saw me, her whole face lit up. She thought I wasn’t going to be there, and when she saw that I was, it just made her so happy. It’s moments like that when I truly realize what an effect I have on her.” 2013 Mentor

“This mentoring relationship has provided a good role model for my student, and an outlet for some of her strong and conflicting emotions. Thank you so much. I hope very much that she will be able to take advantage of this program again next year.”  2013 Teacher

“If it wasn’t for the Seedling program, I believe I would still be struggling and not understanding why. When I am older, I would like to make a difference in a growing child’s life also.  I want them to know that they are not alone.  There can always be someone there for you just like there is someone for me.”   2013 Mentee

~Kali’ P. Rourke, Seedling Board Member


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Gender Gaps in Mentoring

Seedling Legacy MentorNationwide, volunteering rates have held steady at just over a quarter overall for the last several years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but the rate of male volunteering is lower than that of female volunteering, by an average of nearly seven percent, regardless of age, ethnicity, or level of education.

Why do many volunteer organizations typically receive more female volunteers than males, and what can be done about it?

Two major determining factors for volunteering are the way individuals think of volunteering, and the way that communities as a whole perceive and provide access to volunteering. A volunteer-friendly community makes it more likely that, within any given social group, there will be people involved in volunteer work who can then influence, directly or indirectly, others to volunteer. Nearly a quarter of volunteers became involved with their organizations through another volunteer, the most common method of involvement, which is performed mostly through religious volunteer services and distributing food, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. People are more likely to participate in volunteer activities if they have peers who participate in them, as well. Attitudes toward volunteering at both the individual and community levels can, to an extent, work hand in hand: a community supportive of volunteering makes it easier for an individual to do so, and individual opinions about volunteering can create community-wide support.

Values, however, don’t always lead to action. What can we do to make volunteering attractive, particularly to men?

One increasingly popular way to encourage volunteering of both genders is to create a “culture of giving back”. This can take several forms; workplaces can offer incentives to employees who donate their time and energy to volunteering, parents can volunteer as a way to create positive opinions about volunteering for their children, and schools and universities can provide volunteer opportunities to students or potential students. Another way is to highlight some of the more indirect benefits, beyond the sense of reward one gets from volunteering. Celebratory events such as the Seedling Foundation’s Mentor Appreciation event celebrate volunteers’ commitment to volunteering on a highly visible stage, while also elevating their social status and prestige among their peers, who are encouraged to attend. It may also be important to highlight the potential for networking, career advancement, and skill-building inherent to many types of volunteer activities.

Seedling Mentor and MenteePerhaps most important when considering the barriers to volunteering is the time commitment involved. The blurring of the lines between work hours and off hours means that, for many of us, work is never truly completed, and our free time is never truly free. Thus, how can one volunteer their time when their time is never truly theirs to give? The answer, as mentioned previously, may lie in workplace volunteer initiatives, in addition to individual ingenuity. Employers can allow employees to take time out of their workday to perform volunteer work, attend information sessions, or perform community outreach. This helps employers by showing that their company is actively involved in their community, and helps employees by allowing them time away from work, the potential to network and acquire new skills, and the capacity to help their communities without sacrificing their free time.

Ultimately, the onus of male volunteering lies not just with the potential volunteers themselves, but with volunteer organizations and the communities they work within.  It takes a concerted effort to make volunteering more appealing, and the first step is to creating a volunteer-friendly environment, as well as making it easy to find, participate in, and ultimately enjoy volunteer opportunities.

~ Adrian Smith, Seedling Foundation Volunteer Recruitment Coordinator


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