What is it like to mentor Javier and what changes have you seen over the years?
“I get to hang out with a really great kid, someone I’ve gotten to know well and care about in the past ten school years.”
“For years, I’d have lunch with Javier and we’d talk. When he was in elementary school, he wasn’t able to just sit and talk – totally normal for a kid, of course! – So we’d toss a ball or draw together while we chatted. Now, I pull him out of class during an elective period and we talk, while either sitting on a bench inside the school or walking around the school track”
“I’ve always talked to him a lot about college, my job as a journalist and my travels around the world. I wanted him to envision a lot of possibilities for his life. We have also talked extensively about his passions and goals. He has always been an amazing artist, so we’ve talked about art and he would show me his drawings. In high school, he has really excelled in JROTC, so we’ve talked about that and his desire to join the Army.”
What made you want to mentor a child?
“I had just moved back to my hometown of Austin after seven years away, most recently in Mexico City. I was looking for ways to get involved in my community and was moved by a presentation the Seedling Foundation did at my then-employer, the Austin American-Statesman. Mentoring seemed like a way to have a direct and meaningful impact on one person’s life.”
What reservations or concerns did you have when you started mentoring and how did Seedling Mentor Program help you overcome them?
“I wasn’t sure how to tell whether I was making a difference. Mentoring is fuzzier than tutoring, because with tutoring – which I have done in the past – you can see more concretely the impact you are making.”
“It has been great to know that I am not alone. In the early years, especially, I attended workshops with counselors and other mentors. It helped to be able to talk about my experiences rather than just carrying everything inside me. And I learned that it was normal not to be able to fully understand the impact of the mentoring right away.”
What do you like best about mentoring?
“The kid. Javier is a great kid. He’s smart and creative and funny and polite.”
“It has also been satisfying to be able to advocate for him at school. After this many years together, when he tells me about something going on in his life, I know the back story — years of back stories — so I’m able to understand in a way that maybe wouldn’t be possible for someone who hasn’t known him that long. I think there’s something special about that continuity, especially for a kid who has moved a lot.”
“The distance. When I started mentoring Javier, he attended a school five minutes from my office. Later, he moved to a more distant AISD school and eventually, to a city 45 minutes outside of Austin. This is not exactly convenient, especially since I now have two small children of my own in addition to my full-time job! But I care deeply about Javier and I want to continue the mentoring relationship, so I drive outside of town to visit him.
“The hardest things are that I can listen, but I can’t fix all the problems. I can steer him away from what I see as bad decisions, but I can’t make the choices for him. I can stress the importance of studying, but I can’t go home with him every night to help him with his homework. We have limited time together.”
What has surprised you about the mentoring experience?
“I have been amazed that as Javier has gotten older, he still wants me to visit. I thought for sure that when he got to middle school, he would no longer think it was cool for an adult to visit him. But he did. He’d tell his friends, “Hey, look, this is my mentor.” When he started high school, I figured he would not want me around anymore. But he did. I think it makes him feel special because many kids don’t have an adult who regularly visits them at school. Now, he asks whether we can stay in touch after he graduates.”
Has your mentoring experienced changed you? How?
“Of course. Javier has become a part of my life. My three-year-old daughter knows I visit him. My grandmother asks about him. It is among my greatest hopes for Javier to continue his education, follow his dreams, and set off on a life path that’s meaningful to him and makes him happy.”
“This program has made me think a lot about our criminal justice system and our education system and the problems there. But mostly, I think about this one kid.”
What words of advice do you have for someone who is considering mentoring with Seedling?
“Do it. It will be extremely meaningful for you and for the child.”
Start your mentoring journey with Seedling Mentor Program HERE.
To hear more Mentors’ stories through #everydayhero, click HERE.