Monday, July 23, 2012

On paper, mentoring can seem a bit overwhelming, maybe even daunting, for someone who doesn't have children, or doesn't trust themselves to give the right type of influence to a malleable mind. With our busy schedules we doubt our ability to give an hour a week to someone who may need a bit more attention and advice, let alone a child who may truly need a strong mentor.  These fears are understandable, but I hope that as we celebrate all of the amazing work that Edgar Diaz has done we can also use his words and experience to better understand the true nature of mentoring and why we should move past our hesitation and reach out to change the life of a child.

Edgar joined the Mentor Program as a Mentor Advocate at the very end of 2010, and within one month was matched up with his first mentee, MP, a 6th grader with a difficult family situation and problems managing his anger.  Edgar quickly made a connection with MP by helping him open up about his feelings while playing basketball or just walking around campus during lunch, encouraging him to try new things, and even helping him get into an excellent private school by personally speaking to the dean in his favor. As their relationship progressed Edgar realized that he was truly helping to change MP’s life. 

This experience was so rewarding and meaningful for Edgar that just over 4 months after being matched with MP he took on his second mentee, CL. A rambunctious 3rd grader who struggled to follow the rules, often fought with his classmates, and also lived in a tumultuous household. Over many months Edgar helped CL understand and respond more appropriately to his emotions through role playing and problem solving, taught him to write his thoughts down in a journal and “draw his emotions” so he didn’t bottle them up, and gave him a friend to talk to about his struggles at home.  They grew so close that one day CL told Edgar he looked up to him like a father, and Edgar was so proud to have made such an impact on a child in so great a need. Edgar continues to be in touch with MP and CL and looks forward to continuing their relationships for many years to come.

Taking on two mentees within a six month period seems a bit ambitious to me at first, and I wondered how Edgar became so enthusiastic about mentoring. What experience had he had prior to becoming a mentor that drove him to give back and volunteer so much of his time. I asked Edgar what motivated him to become a Mentor and he first spoke about his Aunt: 

My aunt was the first to go to college. She attended UC Riverside. When I was in fourth grade I spent my spring break with her and she took me to her classes and around campus. We had so much fun and I remember being amazed at how awesome college was! Because of that experience I was determined to go to college. She sparked something in me. To her it probably wasn’t such a big deal but to me it meant so much. I spent most of my junior high and high school years wanting to go to UCR and I eventually decided on UCSB. As I grew older I didn’t need her as much, but she was always there for me when I needed her to review some homework assignments or if I had questions about college. I want to give someone that spark and support that I once received from her.”

Edgar’s was extremely motivated by this family experience, but as he continued to speak he made it clear that its not just family that influences a child, but also the outside environment.

Also, what inspired me was that I have seen a difference in the lives of people who have someone to care about them and those who don’t. I came from a high school where maybe about 60% of the incoming freshmen actually make it to graduation. My older brother was almost one of them. His teachers weren't pushing him to do better which is why he barely graduated. Of course at one point everyone should become responsible for their own education, but it always helps when someone is encouraging you.”

There are two main places that affect the development of a child, the home and family, and the school community of teachers, peers, and other types of mentors. Talking to Edgar showed that the community outside of the home, especially the school, have just as great an impact on a child’s potential and outlook on life than their home environment, for better or worse. Edgar knows from his time as a mentor, and from being an Advocate for over a year, that just having someone who cares about you and encourages you can make all the difference.  I was curious about how this change comes about, so I put together a questionnaire for Edgar to showcase his perspective on the influence, challenges, positives, negatives, and overall rewards that come from participating as a Mentor in the Fighting Back Mentor Program.

Q: What was your favorite part of working as a Mentor Advocate? And what will you miss most about working with the program?

E: I think my favorite part was matching up a new mentor and mentee. I loved calling the child into the office and tell him/her that I found a mentor for them. Their excited smiles were so cute and it made me feel so good to know I was helping to change their life. Then doing the match meeting and seeing how the mentor and mentee click is always amazing. I became pretty good at finding the right mentee-mentor match, and took a lot of pride in this ability. Then after they are matched up I loved hearing how their relationship was going and how the kids were improving. I also liked hearing how the mentor were enjoying the experience, especially because it was often a surprise to them to realize how much they were growing and how much fun they were having.

Q: What do you think has been the most challenging part of maintaining a mentor/mentee relationship? How did you deal with/overcome it?

E: The changes, as I mentioned before are fun and exciting, however there are changes that can make the relationship challenging and difficult. This goes for both the mentor and the mentee. The mentor might have a family or have a busy job schedule, which can make it more difficult to meet. And as the mentees get older they often get more involved in sports or organizations at school, get caught up in socializing, and start dating.
These transitions, especially from elementary school to middle school can be challenging and different for everyone, but it is always important to remember to welcome the changes with open arms. Both mentor and mentee need to communicate and be honest about what is going on. The mentor will probably have to be more upfront in the beginning because the mentee might feel embarrassed to talk about their feelings. Communication is key with any relationship, especially with kids who aren’t always the best at it. All these kids are smart and they pick up on everything, including how we talk and interact with them. There are many ways of communicating and staying in touch, even if you're not meeting with each other as consistently as you’d like.

Q: Off the top of your head, describe the first moment that you realized that you had made an impact in your mentee’s life? -> How did this make you feel?

E: For MP, the first time I realized I made a difference was when I took him to California Pizza Kitchen for our one-year celebration. All I did was sit there and listen to him. He just kept talking and talking. I knew this was a shift in our relationship because he was shy when I first met him; very polite, respectful, and quiet with a lot going on under the surface. A year later he is sitting there telling me everything about school and how happy he is that he isn’t getting in serious trouble. He was so happy at his new school, with his new friends, and he told me “thank you” for helping to get him in. I was so grateful and happy that he was doing better and staying out of trouble, and it felt great that he identified me as the reason that he was in such a good place.

For CL I think it was when he started the fourth grade. We made short term goals for him to stay out of trouble. First we started with a goal of three days. Honestly it took him a while but eventually he accomplished his goal of three days, then we began to extend the number of days. The lunch lady at his school would always give me updates about how he was doing, and one day at the end of January, she told me that he had not been in trouble for an entire month! I was so happy with this news, I told CL how proud of him I was, and encouraged him to stay out of trouble. After this event, he went on to stay out of trouble for three straight months! Even if he had another moment, he learned to trust me and opened up to let me know if he got in trouble. More importantly this also opened up a place for us to talk about his family and helped us grow closer in our mentor/mentee relationship.

Q: Describe the first moment that you realized your mentee had made an impact/affected your life? -> How did this make you feel?

E: Well, I have a little brother who is 9 years old now, and I missed him because we don’t live nearby. Meeting and maintaining relationships with both of my mentees was a great way of filling that void, because if I can’t be there with my brother at least I can spend time with kids around the same age and energy level, and do my best to guide them. The opportunity to hang out with someone younger, like a younger sibling, also allows me to do all the fun activities people usually stop doing as adults. It is a way to step out of my adult stresses and simply have fun with two great kids, while also knowing I’m helping to enrich their lives.

Q: What do you think has been the most influential and positive part of maintaining a mentor/mentee relationship?

E: I think that the most influential and positive part of maintaining a mentor/mentee relationship is that the mentee has someone who cares about them no matter how old they get or what they are going through. I always tell my mentees that no matter where I go or where they go or whatever happens that I will always be there for them. Any kid simply wants someone who’s going to be there and support them, and someone who will simply show up. It is also very rewarding to maintain a mentoring relationship over time because you can see how you both change and learn from every new experience that comes into each other’s lives. The privilege of not just watching, but positively influencing the course of a child’s life and seeing them grow over time is an amazing satisfaction for me.

            Edgar shows us that becoming a mentor and has its ups and downs, challenges and rewards, growth and regression, exactly like any relationship you maintain over time. It is a choice to participate, encourage and support another individual in whatever it is that they do. Edgar took an opportunity to provide an hour or more a week of his attention to someone who was at risk, who may or may not have been getting it from their family, or teachers at school. What impresses me about Edgar is his patience, not only in hindsight or retrospect, but currently, even as he moves on to a new home, new job, and maybe more education, he looks at his mentoring relationships as current and ongoing. He still makes the time to meet with his mentees and stays in touch over the phone when he cannot visit.  Edgar’s experiences illustrate how truly rewarding, challenging, eye opening, and life changing being a mentor is. His words show what many of us already know first hand, that being a mentor doesn’t just affect the mentee; it also deeply resonates within the mentor and can be a wonderfully life changing and fulfilling experience. As Forest Witcraft famously wrote:

“One Hundred Years from now it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much money was in my bank account, nor what my clothes looked like. But the world may be a better place because I was important in the life of a child.”

In Edgar’s case he has made the world a better place through the lives of countless youth in Santa Barbara by his incredible volunteerism and work as a Mentor Advocate.  Because of his commitment to his two mentees, and the community as a whole, we are proud to celebrate Edgar Diaz as our Mentor of the Summer!! Congratulations Edgar, you deserve it!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Scenario: Showering
Julie’s parents work very early in the morning, and come home late. She is in charge of getting her brothers and sisters ready for school and bed. Sometimes she is in such a rush to get things done that she forgets to shower. Julie doesn’t feel it’s that important anyways. She says she’ll take a shower once she gets dirty. One day at school as the class is going to recess, some kids start laughing when they are around Julie. One of the kids says, “Ew, what’s that smell?” They tell Julie she smells funny and jokingly back away. Julie starts to cry and runs off to the corner of the playground.

Questions for Discussion

1. Why do you think the kids are making fun of her? What would you do if one of your friends came to school smelling weird, would you talk to them about it?

2. Do you think showering is important? Why or why not?

3. How often do you shower?

4. What are some consequences of not showering?

6. What products can you use to smell better?


** Personal hygiene may be described as the principle of maintaining cleanliness and grooming of the external body. 

** Kids with poor hygiene face medical consequences and are more prone to developing rashes and infections.

** Poor personal hygiene is a contributor to the spread of infectious diseases. Touching the hands, clothing or bodies of people with poor hygiene spreads colds, ringworm, head and body lice, and other parasites and viruses.

** Cleaning your body is also important to ensure your skin rejuvenates itself, as the scrubbing of your arms, legs, and torso will slough off dead, dry skin and help your skin stay healthy and refreshed.

** Instead of sharing a bath towel, it's suggested to use your own towel. This will prevent cross-contamination.

**Avoiding certain aromatic foods like onions, garlic, or spicy dishes can reduce body odor.

** Remember: nothing smells better than clean skin. Perfumes are not a good substitute for a shower or wash.

** Underclothes are right next to your skin and collect dead skin cells, sweat and possibly other unmentionable stains. Overnight bacteria start to work on these stains so your clothes do not smell as nice on the second day of wearing. If you have to wear a school uniform then take it off as soon as you get home and hang it up to air before you wear it the next day.

** Its so important to keep your hair clean and conditioned to ensure it stays healthy and strong. Washing your hair at least every other day is important to keeping your hair healthy and in good shape. If you wash it too frequently, your hair will become brittle and dry, making it difficult to grow and keep strong. If you wash it too infrequently, it will become greasy and will also stunt its growth.

** Social aspects can be affected, as many people would rather alienate themselves from someone who has bad personal hygiene than to tell them how they could improve. Bullies may use bad personal hygiene as a way of abusing their victims, using social embarrassment as a weapon.

** In the 'olden' days all water had to be boiled on a fire or wood stove, and then carried to a washbowl or bath. Often families would only have a bath once a week (or less often) when all the family would use the same bath water, one after another. 

How Mentors Can Help:

** Start the conversation by talking about each other’s daily routines.  For instance “I wake up, shower, brush my teeth, eat breakfast and go to work, what do you usually do when you wake up?”  This is a non confrontational way to open the door on these sensitive issues.

**Discuss the pros and cons of daily hair washing. Some teens may prefer to skip days to prevent their hair from drying out. Others may want to wash their hair daily -- especially if they have oily hair, which can both look greasy and aggravate acne.

** It’s also important to consider that for children who are going through puberty, which can start as early as 7 to 9 years of age, this is a major transition. Simply put, their bodies need more care than they have in the past in order to remain clean. Talk to your mentee about the changes in their body and why good hygiene is important.

** If your mentee associates showering or bathing with relaxing, they are less likely to fuss when it comes time to clean up. Tell your mentee to use this time in the bathroom to calm down, think about the day, relax, and plan for the week ahead.

** Compliment your mentee when they take the time to look good. They should know that people notice their efforts, and that personal appearance in terms of cleanliness does matter.

** It's easy for kids to go overboard on colognes or body sprays. Be sure you explain that a little bit goes a long way. Smelling good doesn’t always mean they are clean.


Additional Resources

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