Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Everyone Should Have a Mariela

Hello, my name is Valentina and Iʼm stealing from a Los Angeles non-profit organization. There it is. I said it. Iʼm stealing from Youth Mentoring Connection. Each week I get much more than I could ever give as a Mentor of this unbelievable organization. I should have to pay. OK, a volunteer is a volunteer after all, but the benefits of being a Mentor are astounding and humbling so, yes, in a way I am stealing.

When I moved to Los Angeles almost 5 years ago, I came in pursuit of my dream as an
actor. What became evident within 5 minutes was that I was in an industry that cared more about the “me” than the “we”. So I began looking for a place where I could establish Community and keep my sanity. All roads lead to YMC.

I went to the “Mentor/Mentee match-up mixer” with a sense of both intrigue and hesitation. It turned out to be a bowling event where Mentors and Mentees could find one another organically (much like a dreaded singles mixer, p.s.). Once I started talking to the young people though I was wooed by their intelligence, sincerity, and willingness to be who they are. Among all the “available” Mentees, there was one that stood out. She was loud and bossy, insecure and bright. I said to myself, “That girl scares me...please let me get paired up with the shy girl in the corner instead.” Nope. Didn't happen.

Mariela and I were destined for one another. We were matched up before we ever met,
matched up from the moment both of us signed up to be in the Mentoring program. She reminded me of me at that age, a loud, bossy, insecure kid with wild light in her eyes.

Four years later Mariela and I (“Marientina”) are still going strong. No longer
a McDonaldʼs-obsessed 12 year-old with scant interest in school, Mariela is now a beautiful young woman involved in organic cooking and excited about her future. We are mirrors for one another. She is a “little Buddha” who constantly speaks with such clarity and honesty that I have no choice but to fess up and deal with myself. We donʼt judge one another, we question. We donʼt criticize, we recommend. We donʼt blame, we thank.

There is a saying at Youth Mentoring Connection: once you have met the young people,
heard their stories, felt both their heartache and their joy you have officially “drunk the Kool-Aid” and you will never be the same. Well, I drank it, folks, and now I brush my teeth with it, bath in it, and add it to my coffee in the morning.

So I am here, coming clean, and thanking Youth Mentoring Connection for generously
allowing me to drink the Kool-Aid, year after year, without paying a dime.

-Valentina Garcia-Loste


Tony said...

Thank you Valentina. You have stolen one more thing from YMC. You stole our hearts.
Thank you for your beautiful and soulful presence in our community.

Lilia of NYC said...

Thanks for inspiring us all to be one notch better of a person. You are amazing, Valentina. Right on!
Lilia (Ben's mom)