Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What I care about today - A Mentor's Story

A couple of months ago, The Today Show on NBC was having an essay contest that caught my attention. "What do YOU care about today?" They were asking people to submit essays about non-profit organizations that are doing great things in your community. I was inspired and immediately sprung into action because there was a $100,000 prize for the winner's organization! Unfortunately YMC was not selected to win this prize, but I believe my essay speaks to the many "prizes" I have been given by YMC. I feel like a winner.

Last October, I was fortunate enough to attend a retreat in the mountains for the mentoring organization I have been volunteering with for over five years. This retreat takes place every year and serves not only as a symbolic “rite of passage” for our youth, but also is an opportunity for them to get away from their South Central Los Angeles neighborhoods. These are neighborhoods where funerals have become social events and gunshots are as commonplace as crickets chirping in most neighborhoods. Many of these teens have never been to the mountains or the ocean even though they live less than 10-12 miles away from both. The retreat takes place about two hours away, so it gives them an opportunity to really escape for an entire weekend.

I attended the retreat with my mentee of nearly five years, Brittani, who had been selected to be a “youth leader”. Brittani was 15 when I first met her and already had unimaginable life experiences, including homelessness. Over the past five years, I have watched her develop into a mature and determined woman, I am tremendously proud of.

During the retreat, one of our facilitated sessions involved poetry writing. As a part of the exercise, we were instructed to write a poem in a specific format. The exercise successfully initiated very important discussions and revelations from the mentees, the staff and the volunteers. Below is the poem I wrote about what I cared about that day:

I knew a girl who was confused, scared and losing her path
I knew a girl who didn’t like school or express goals and seemed to lack dreams
I knew a girl who went through hard times at a very young age
I know a woman who has overcome these hard times
I know a woman who will not give up on her goal to finish high school
I know a woman who has blown me away with her new self-confidence and inspiration
I am thankful to have this woman in my life and this woman is Brittani

This is what I care about everyday. My experience volunteering with this organization has changed my life and inspired me more than I could have ever imagined. Twice a month we meet for both one-on-one sessions and facilitated group sessions where a community is formed. It gives the youth an opportunity to learn what “community” means and how they can use their gifts to contribute. They develop relationships with multiple adults who can support them in their struggles, dreams and future goals. Youth Mentoring Connection serves the youth of South Central Los Angeles by providing mentoring programs that keep youth out of gangs and greatly improve their chances of graduating from high school. Graduation rates for this population average below 50% every year, but 95% of YMC mentees graduate from high school. 90% of these graduates enroll in college or trade school. I nominate Youth Mentoring Connection because YMC and everyone involved is what I care about today…..and everyday.

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