Zaira’s Story – A Mentee’s Journey

This year, at the Seedling Foundation Annual Mentor Appreciation Luncheon, our keynote speaker was one of our own.

Zaira Garcia joined the Seedling’s Promise Program when it began, and was one of the first 8th grade Seedling College Scholarship winners in 2007.  She was a tiny girl, as she walked across the stage of Webb Middle School to receive her $5,000 college scholarship promise and her classmates gave the winners a standing ovation.

Her Mentor, Margo Dover, and the Seedling’s Promise Program became part of Zaira’s life and transformed it in many ways over the years.  But, you see, we don’t have to tell you her story…she does it herself, right here.

Zairas Story

Click on the image to smile and perhaps even shed a tear as Zaira shares her journey with Seedling’s Promise with you.






About Zaira:

Zaira Garcia is a former Seedling’s Promise mentored student and current University of Texas at Austin undergraduate. She recently spoke at Seedling’s Annual Mentor Appreciation Event, about how her Seedling mentor impacted her life.

“We would meet once a week during my lunch hour and that was enough to help me cope with the loneliness I had become accustomed to…Having someone show up for you is a huge, huge deal…Thirty minutes once a week goes a long way for someone; someone who might get lost in the system, or someone who knows nothing about how important they are… (It) is enough to make a difference.”

Zaira’s message affirms that in just a few minutes each week, Seedling mentors make a significant and life-changing impact on a child’s life. This past school year, Seedling Foundation matched over 550 Central Texas school children with a caring, committed mentor.

This summer, we hope to recruit an additional 200 volunteers to match with both current and new children in the program. Will you help by becoming a mentor or making a donation to help us recruit and train new mentors?

We can’t do it without your support.

~Seedling’s Promise Staff



Posted in Children with Parents in Prison, Mentoring, Site-Based Mentoring | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why I Give – One Donor’s Story

Amber TowersDonor Spotlight: Amber Towers

Amber Towers felt compelled to become a mentor as soon as she learned about the mission of the Seedling Foundation. Her first mentoring experience would introduce her to Errin, a 7th grader whom she would mentor throughout middle school and high school. Towers also had the unusual experience of being asked to serve as a foster parent for Errin when she was 16 years old, and Errin lived with Amber for two years.

Errin has since graduated and is working, going to school, and living on her own in an apartment she shares with a friend.

Towers said, “I’ve seen first-hand how just showing up once a week can truly change a child’s life. I saw how the program changed Errin. I saw how receiving a Seedling scholarship changed Errin. I know that she would not be in college now if it wasn’t for the scholarship and support she received from Seedling.”

This year, Towers is mentoring a 2nd grader, Mia. Towers is a regular and generous donor to Seeding Foundation. When asked why she supports the Seedling Foundation financially, she said,

 “I donate mostly because I understand there are two sides to Seedling’s success. Mentors need to show up and care, and that’s one side. On the other side, the Foundation needs the funding behind it to recruit and train the mentors. Both sides are equally important. Even a small amount makes a big difference in getting more mentors for these children. I started donating when I saw the level of support Errin received from Seedling Foundation, even after she wasn’t in the program anymore. I saw how no matter what, Errin and AmberSeedling was continually there for her. I signed up to give monthly so that I could help support the monthly expenses to keep the program going. Then, I signed up to contribute towards the scholarship fund. I have seen and talked with other mentors who are also impressed about the way Seedling stays with these children, long after they age out of the program. I also donate because I had the opportunity to serve on the Board, and I learned first-hand that the Foundation is a good steward of the donations it receives. I learned that every penny is tracked and every donation goes directly to support the students in the program.”

Donate to Seedling

Posted in Children with Parents in Prison, Mentoring, Site-Based Mentoring | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tipping Our Hats to Our Mentors

Hats Off to MentorsMay brings showers and bluebonnets to Central Texas along with Seedling’s annual rite of spring…the Mentor Appreciation Luncheon!

Hundreds of our Mentors gather with School Contacts, Seedling Board Members and Staff, Sponsors, Donors and our friends throughout Central Texas, for a noon time celebration of mentoring and the magic it brings into the lives of children.

Our Seedling College Scholarship Graduates are recognized and applauded, and the newest group of Seedling College Scholarship Winners (8th graders) are introduced to the community that has chosen to support them in their efforts to pursue more education and opportunities.

It is our favorite time of year.  As we shake hands and hug, trade stories and smiles, and re-dedicate ourselves to another year of making a difference.

Our keynote speaker this year was a young lady named Zaira Garcia.  She was one of our very first Seedling College Scholarship winners in 2007.  She graduated from high school in 2011 and claimed her scholarship and will now graduate this year from the University of Texas at Austin.  She dreams of being a teacher, and if her poise, intellect and character that she displayed as a speaker are any indication, her school and students are in for the treat of a lifetime.

Zaira reflected on the end of her 8th grade year, when she won her Seedling College Scholarship.  She recounted for a spellbound audience how sad she had been that year and how hard things had been for her before she got her Mentor, Margo Dover.  Margo was a presence in her school year all through high school and Zaira remembered how just being with this successful and fun woman lifted her spirits.

She recounted a day in high school when the school day schedule got flipped due to testing, and so her afternoon math class saw her after she had visited with Margo when they usually saw her before.

She was so happy and unlike the girl they were used to seeing that her teacher actually sent her to the Principal’s office, where she was questioned about what substance she had taken.  Zaira was shocked, but explained that she had seen her Mentor, Margo, and that was the only thing that was different. Mentoring made her happy!

A standing ovation greeted Zaira at the end of her speech and she closed with advice to this year’s scholarship winners to take full advantage of the gift and chance they had been given.

To share in the joy that is a Seedling’s Promise Mentor Appreciation Event, click HERE.

Enjoy, and if you aren’t mentoring yet, we hope you will be next year!

~Seedling’s Promise Staff




Posted in Children with Parents in Prison, Mentoring, Site-Based Mentoring | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summertime Mentoring Blues?

Mentees Thumbs UpMy mentee is thrilled about summer, right?

Who wouldn’t be happy about having no homework, sleeping a little later, and playing outside in the sunshine? But summer may include some other differences for your mentee. You might be surprised by some issues that could result in subtle signs of anxiety in your next few visits.

For many children, school represents a place of predictability and physical and emotional
safety, feelings that may be diminished or absent in the three months of summer. How
can a mentor help?

A good open-ended question such as “What do you think your summer will be like?” can
open the door. Use your best active listening skills to watch for small changes in
tone, facial expression or body language, and invite your mentee to talk about feelings.

Other questions might be:
 How will you spend your time away from school this summer?
 Who will you be with? (How old is your cousin?)
 Is there any part of the summer that you are really looking forward to?
 Is there any part of the summer that you’re worried about?
 Who do you talk to in the summer when something is bothering you?
 What do you usually do about lunch in the summer? **See below.

Talk about qualities in friends who are “good” and friends who are “not so
good”. This conversation may also be an opportunity for personal sharing. For example,
you can let your mentee know the tricks and self-talk you use when faced with
inadequate personal space or with inevitable boredom.

Here is an article about end-of-year gifts and activities that may help. And last, if your
mentee describes glorious summer plans that make you doubtful, avoid asking for details that can require a child to continue making up facts. Instead, ask open-ended questions that allow the child to explore the would-be adventure, such as “I wonder…what do you suppose that would be like – to visit Disney World?”

Note to Austin Area Mentors

**Summer Food Service Program Hunger does not take a summer vacation, and for kids who rely on free or reduced price school lunches for their main meal of the day, summer can be a hardship. Monday through Friday, children 18 and under are welcome to enjoy nutritious lunches at any of the Capital Area Food Bank’s federally funded Summer Food Service Program sites. No registration or identification is needed.

At press time, the listing of summer food program sites and maps of locations was not
yet available for 2014. For updates, visit or inquire in
the school office.

Thank you for mentoring.  Thank you for making a difference in the life of a child.

~Seedling’s Promise Staff



Posted in Children with Parents in Prison, Mentoring, Site-Based Mentoring | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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



Posted in Children with Parents in Prison, Mentoring, Site-Based Mentoring | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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


Posted in Children with Parents in Prison, Mentoring, Site-Based Mentoring | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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




Posted in Children with Parents in Prison, Mentoring, Site-Based Mentoring | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment