Friday, October 26, 2012

Mentor of the Year: Lisa Gosdschan

The Fighting Back Mentor Program Coordinator, Ann Cowell, told me while choosing the Mentor of the Year that she is looking for someone who not only demonstrates the time commitment to their mentee, but a commitment to the community as a whole.  She looks for a mentor who supports and cares for their mentee in every way that they can: in school, in their personal lives, and by encouraging them to always learn and experience new things.

This year we are so proud to announce and celebrate Lisa Gosdschan as our 2012 Mentor of the Year, because she embodies all of those qualities! Throughout her long, and sometimes rocky, relationship with her mentee she never gave up, never stopped caring, and is a perfect example of what a mentor can be given enough time, heart, and devotion. Her work with her mentee, who is now an 8th grader, is beyond the expectations of a mentor, and therefore comes directly from her own intrinsic motivation and spirit. Her story is important to share because it shows how, when given the opportunity, people are capable of immeasurable generosity and compassion.

When I sat down for an interview with Lisa, she told me of all the ways she supports her mentee with her physical, emotional, psychological, and even spiritual health. Lisa is extremely hands on, very involved, and an incredible model of humanitarian work. She is a valuable member of numerous volunteer groups: Mentor Task Force, Kiwanis Club, Catholic Charities (Food Pantry, Special Olympics) and on the board of Alpha Resource Center. Her volunteer work with Ed Cue at Kiwanis, exposed her to the need of mentoring, and inspired her to get involved with more programs within the Santa Barbara community.

            Nearly three years ago, Lisa and her mentee met for the first time at their match meeting at her elementary school. It was clear from day one that they were a good match. When I read over her mentee’s pre-match interview, I found that when she was asked 'What type of person would you like to be matched with?' she responded, "Someone who is nice, who cares about me, and knows other languages." It turns out that Lisa speaks French, German, and English. But this is only one small connection among many, such as their shared love of cats, and going to Yogurtland, that make them great. Lisa brought Jolly Ranchers to the match meeting for her mentee and it turned out that that was her favorite candy! The candy was a great conversation starter and it allowed for her normally shy mentee to open up. They were both very enthusiastic about the relationship and her mentee fed off of Lisa’s energy. Lisa identified with her because as a young girl she remembers being shy and reserved also. And then as she grew older Lisa overcame her shyness, became a cheerleader, and got more involved in school and the community. Lisa was immediately excited to share this experience and knowledge with her mentee, to help her blossom, just as Lisa had.

                        For Lisa, sharing her childhood and family experiences with her mentee has been a wonderful and important part of their relationship, but dealing with the differences in their backgrounds and perspectives, and relating to her mentee with understanding and without judgment, has been one of her greatest struggles. Not having any children to base a mentoring relationship on, Lisa put forth what she knew about support and encouragement from growing up in a disciplined and structured military household. Sometimes it was hard for Lisa to understand her mentee’s actions, because she describes that from her own experience growing up "I just never [broke the rules], I just never did anything. I knew there would be consequences and I didn’t want to find out what they were. I never got in trouble, never got suspended, never got anything, and when I met my mentee, her family was totally different. You know, with her father incarcerated, uncle incarcerated, broken family with her mother busy all the time, she didn’t have any consequences. But she was a child, so I figured, you know, it doesn't really matter, this dynamic, obviously she needs someone, and I think it was just a really, really good match for us."


            Lisa’s mentee is raised by a single working mother with two other children, one of whom suffers from a difficult mental disability, and therefore her mentee often finds herself without attention or help from her overwhelmed mother. Lisa is more than willing to step into this gap to help her mentee and her mother, and make sure her mentee has regular visits to the doctor and dentist, that she is signed up for important school programs such as the meal plans and correct classes, and takes time to have fun with her mentee and go shopping or walking down State St. Lisa also focuses on encouraging her mentee to increase her involvement in her schoolwork, and after her mentee expressed interest in criminal investigation as a potential career Lisa helped her explore this interest even more and turn it into a motivating goal. Throughout their relationship Lisa has helped her mentee embrace the idea of attaining good grades, going to college, and finding a career path that uses her strengths and sparks her interests. It truly is a great relationship when a mentor can help a mentee see their potential and take steps to reach it.

            I asked Lisa why she gives so much of her time and energy to her mentee she explained that it is a wonderful opportunity to be an positive influence on a young person at a time when they need it most, and talked about how mentoring enriches her life as much as her mentees: "[A mentor] can make someone feel important and show them how they can make others feel important; when you give, you get a lot back.” And after two years of numerous challenges and growth in the relationship, Lisa told me about a time when she 'got a lot back' and truly saw that she was making an impact. Lisa took her mentee on a trip to visit with Lisa's family while they did spring cleaning: "[My mentee] saw everybody do everything together. Everybody would work together, eat together, and we'd be laughing around the table, I don't think that [her mentee’s family] have a dinner table to tell you the truth. Even though cleaning a house isn’t our regular circumstances she just saw a family that was really working hard together, and she had a great time working along side us. I think that was a changing experience for her and she was happy to give back to me and my family." For Lisa this was such a rewarding time with her mentee, and she cherishes the ability to show her different perspectives and the different ways that people, and families, live. This changed her mentee’s worldview, and Lisa said that after this trip there was a positive shift in her demeanor overall, and her attitude towards school. This story, among many, best illustrates Lisa's inclusive approach and dedication, but it also illustrates the possibilities in mentoring, and how something that may seem random can make the greatest impact.

When we asked Lisa's mentee if she could describe her mentor in one word, she chose the word "generous." Not only does this describe Lisa perfectly, but it also describes the soul of a Mentor, someone who is willing to give of themselves to help another. There are Mentors that give an incredible amount of their time, spirit, and support, and some who can only give that one hour a week, but they all make a difference. And then there are Mentors like Lisa, who demonstrates outstanding generosity, support, graciousness, resilience, passion, and compassion that goes above and beyond anything we ask or expect of mentors within the program.

Congratulations, Lisa, for being our 2012 Mentor
of the Year! You truly deserve it!

~Kiana G. Alzate, Creative Media Intern with the Fighting Back Mentor
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