Kali’ has been working with Seedling Foundation since 2003 when she met its Founder, John Blazier. He invited her to a board meeting and she subsequently became the first President of the Seedling Foundation Board.
Kali’ was involved with the initial design of Seedling Mentor Program, and although she left technical aspects to the professionals, she suggested that Seedling put its focus on training mentors to become confident and self-renewing. “People who have a good experience mentoring recommend it to other people,” she said, and Seedling has grown and flourished, serving thousands of children challenged by parental incarceration in a school-based program.
We asked Kali’ what drew her to Seedling Foundation Mentoring.
“I had never thought about the children of incarcerated parents. They seem to exist in this halo of wrong-doing that is not theirs, and as the experts put it so well, ‘they do time while their parents do time.’ After meeting Nell Bernstein, Ann Adalist-Estrin and Dee Ann Newell, I was educated about how many children are suffering this trauma each day. I had to do something about it.”
“Seedling Mentor Program is unique in my experience. From its close collaboration with school districts, to the time and resources it invests in each mentor: No Seedling mentor walks into a school unprepared or uneducated, and if something unexpected comes up, they are a phone call or email away from professional support. Seedling’s Mentor Directors are often former counselors or social workers and they have the advantage of knowing how schools work and how to solve problems and cooperate closely with them.”
What work have you done with Seedling and do you donate to the organization?
“I was President of the Board for seven years; then came back for two more in that position when the current President couldn’t continue to serve. I am now Secretary of the Board. I created the first Seedling website, maintain the current site, and work with the Development Committee on social media and outreach.”
“In addition to making Seedling Foundation our number one charity of choice each year, my husband Dan and I created the Seedling College Scholarships and continue to give to them along with other donors who have caught the vision of presenting scholarships at 8th grade; inspiring our Seedling mentees to make better choices throughout high school.”
“My most important work, however, has been the last three years mentoring Mena!”
My mentee is a bright-eyed, bubbly third-grader and I have had the privilege of watching her grow, learn and become a young woman who is enthusiastic, kind, a bit of a math brain, and my friend. It is magical.
Do you have a favorite story about your mentee?
“Oh, there are so many! I guess my favorite was when I learned about a game from a fellow Seedling mentor called “Best thing: Worst thing.” You and your mentee ask each other what was the worst thing that happened all week, and then what was the best thing.”
“I asked Mena what was the best thing that happened to her all week. She peered seriously through her bright pink glasses at me, and said quietly, ‘When you came.’ I was stunned.”
“All the way home I thought about what a marvelous thing it was to be a child’s ‘best thing’!”
What is your favorite Seedling event, and why?
“Each May, I anticipate Seedling’s Mentor Appreciation Event. It is second only to Christmas for me in excitement, joy, and the incredible pleasure of seeing so many angels in one room. Recognizing our mentors, staff and school contacts is an honor, and congratulating our Seedling College Scholarship graduates and current 8th-grade winners is truly a highlight of my year.”
Our readers can see your biography on our website, but is there something else we should know about you?
“One night in 1996, I got a call from a paternal uncle I had never met. I was a child of early divorce and never knew my father well, but had become close with his parents through regular phone calls. That night, my life was forever changed. My uncle said that my father was dead at 59 and that he had committed suicide in prison.”
“I was shocked and thought at first it was a mistake. I told him that my Grandma had told me for at least two years that he was working in Saudi Arabia! I soon found that she had been lying to me, both to protect me, and out of her own embarrassment. I had become a child of a prisoner myself, with the worst outcome there can be, and I had no idea it had even happened. I later learned through my work with Seedling that it is not uncommon for a family to be embarrassed and avoid informing children about their parent’s incarceration.”
What would you say to a person who is considering mentoring or donating to Seedling?
“Do it. Let go of any preconceptions about the incarcerated and their families, and jump into highly supported and research-driven mentoring through Seedling. As the saying goes, ‘When you mentor a child, TWO lives are changed for the better!”