Honoring Our Volunteers: Even Einstein Had a Mentor

By: Adriana Varela

About the Author

When I came to live to the United States, one of the things that inspired me the most about the American way of life was the culture of volunteering. It seemed to me that everybody I met was volunteering for church, for their children’s school PTA, for a neighborhood association, for their alma mater, or for one of the many wonderful charitable organizations that exist in this country.

According to the current Population Survey, about 62.8 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2013 and September 2014. The volunteer rate in 2013 was 25.4 percent.[1]  I can’t think of anything more inspiring than that.

New American Pathways is no exception. Last year, we were extremely fortunate to have more than 11,100 hours donated to our various programs. Needless to say, we could not do what we do without the help of people like you. Volunteers: we salute you!!

A form of volunteering that I find particularly fulfilling is mentoring. The benefits are profound and almost immediately palpable for both mentors and mentees alike.

Mentoring is as old as Greek mythology.  Before Odysseus left on his 10-year voyage, he entrusted his son to his dear friend Mentor, who became a valued counselor to the family. Literature, history, modern-day politics and even successful scientific and economic endeavors are filled with examples of people who may have not reached the peak of their potential, if it had not been for a trusted mentor who cared. Just ask Luke Skywalker (whose mentor was Obi-Wan Kenobi), Einstein (whose mentor was Max Talmey), or Steve Jobs who acknowledged many mentors in his life.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the opportunity to play the role of the mythical Mentor of the Odyssey at least once in our lives? Well, it is easier than you think.

Imagine being a refugee teen girl, newly arrived to this country after having lived an odyssey of your own and having to navigate the U.S. high school system. Now imagine also dealing with the stress of fitting in with new peers, body image, self-esteem and the stress of adjusting to a new culture and language. I am sure even our mighty Odysseus would need a little help and a role model if faced with such challenges.

We recognized that in 2012, and so created the Young Women’s Leadership Program. Our goal is to prepare our refugee girls for success by promoting educational enrichment, personal development, civic engagement, financial literacy, healthy lifestyles, self-sufficiency and leadership skills.

Mentors are crucial to the success of the program, so we need your help. Please do not be intimidated if the last time you were around teenagers you were 14 years old yourself. Mentoring is a wonderful way of developing a meaningful relationship that is mutually rewarding and beneficial.

We all learn from different people at different times in our lives and it is just a matter of providing another person the opportunity to learn from your experience. And even though providing academic support to your mentee will always be important, the key lays on lending an ear and providing perspective.  What our girls really need is someone who will actively listen and provide the emotional support to open their horizons and believe in their natural abilities.

In the words of Maya Angelou:  “In order to be a mentor, and an effective one, one must care. You must care. You don’t have to know how many square miles are in Idaho, you don’t need to know what is the chemical makeup of chemistry, or of blood or water. Know what you know and care about the person, care about what you know and care about the person you’re sharing with.”

[1] http://www.bls.gov/news.release/volun.nr0.htm

[2] Retrieved from: www.WhoMentoredYou.org

For more information about the Young Women’s Leadership Program and the many ways in which you can help, please contact Young Women’s Leadership AmeriCorps Service Member Anna Gray at (404) 299-6099 ext. 217 or ywl@newamerican pathways.org 

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