In celebration of National Mentoring Month, the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development wanted to share some personal stories that show the power of mentoring in youth’s lives. I interviewed a mentor and mentee from the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) at Humanim in Baltimore, Maryland. Ebony is a juvenile probation officer who is starting her fourth year as a RAMP mentor. Her mentee, Shawnita, is a senior at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical Senior High School.
Shawnita: I had heard about RAMP from other people at school [who had participated in RAMP] the previous year.
Ebony: Through [Humanim’s RAMP Coordinator] Taavon. I met him at work. He was a mentor for the mentoring program we had for our clients.
Since RAMP is a career-focused mentoring program, what careers are you interested in, Shawnita?
Shawnita: I want to become a baker. It’s the trade I’m learning in high school.
Describe the first time you two met face to face.
Ebony: When we first met, Shawnita was kind of shy. A little bit shy. But we had something. She told me she liked baking, and I had just started baking a lot of stuff.
What was the environment like?
Ebony: We met at the Humanim offices for the RAMP Meet Your Mentor Night. They had us sitting at the table with our mentees. They went through what the program would be about, and then we broke up into groups. And we started the Individualized Mentoring Plan together.
Shawnita: We were at the meeting to meet our mentors. It was nice. I was there by myself, but I knew some of the other people from school. I was shy at first, but I warmed up. She’s friendly.
What were your thoughts or expectations or emotions going in?
Shawnita: I was open-minded to whatever was going to happen.
Ebony: I’m always excited to get somebody new. I was excited to start again. I knew it was going to be good. I know that Taavon always seems to match us well. All the mentees I’ve had in the past, we’ve been a good match. I was excited to meet Shawnita.
How has your relationship changed since that first day?
Shawnita: It’s gone a long way. I see her as a big sister. She cares for me. I didn’t think the relationship was going to go as long as it did, but I’m glad it did.
Ebony: We’ve become really, really close. She tells me a lot. We talk a lot about a lot of different things. We’ve spent the most time together than I have ever spent with any of the other mentees. We have fun. It’s like, I don’t know, she’s become more like a little sister. One of her goals was to try to be more social with people. In November, I took her to Bowie [State University], where my friend’s son is a senior. It was senior recognition day as well as his birthday. So I took her with me to the game, because she’d never been to a college campus. We went out to eat, and she was talking to my friend and my friend’s family. We went around the table and said good things about her son. Shawnita even said something, and I thought that was good, because that’s something she wouldn’t ordinarily do when she’s around people she really doesn’t know or in a big social environment; she doesn’t talk. I’ve seen her break out of her shell over the past year. It was her first time going to a college campus and she liked the environment and experience.
What do you talk about together?
Ebony: Everything – family… One of her goals is being on time to school. When we’re working on goals, I don’t want to make it seem like it’s only about her, so I’ll set some goals for myself, too. With her, it was getting to school on time. I work usually 9:30 to six o’clock, because I don’t like to get up in the morning. So I said, as a part of my goals I’m going to try to get to work earlier so I don’t have to stay as late. Some mornings, I’ll send her a text: “Make sure you get to school on time. Have a great day.” So on some mornings, she’ll send me one that says, “Good morning. I hope you make it to work a little earlier.” We encourage each other and make sure we’re sticking to our goals.
Shawnita: We talk about everything. Every topic. Goals… Going to school on time, her going to work early, and things like that.
What are some of the things that you do together?
Shawnita: We went to a basketball game recently. Movies. Out to eat. Church. We do a lot of different stuff.
Ebony: We’ve gone out to eat at various different places. To the movies. To the mall. I’ve taken her to church with me. I’ve seen her off to the prom, that’s what most of the mall shopping was for. We were looking for prom stuff. We went to Bowie [State University], and we went to Morgan [State University], as well.
Shawnita, do you approach life and school differently since you’ve had a mentor?
Shawnita: Yes. She opens my mind to different things. I can’t sum up everything. It’s a lot. Being to school on time… About my teachers—she helps me calm down and stay on task.
Ebony, how has the last four years of being a mentor changed your life?
Ebony: Getting to know new people and having other people trying to make me accountable, as well. And I do look at things differently. I’m not that old, but things are different now than when I was Shawnita’s age. But at the same time, a lot of the things she goes through, I went through. Being more open and understanding. It even helps me with my clients at work, so I can be more understanding . Having a personal relationship with someone in high school can help me relate more to youth at work and stay more open.
Tell me about one of your favorite memories from the mentoring experience.
Shawnita: Once, we met at Panera Bread. I was sad. I opened up and I cried and cried, but I let her in. And I knew she was going to be there for the long run. I knew I could trust her.
Ebony: For me, it was when we went to Bowie [State University], and we were at the restaurant and I saw how she interacted with people she didn’t know. In the beginning, she wouldn’t have responded like that. It showed me that she was opening up; she was coming out of her shell.
What do you like about having a mentor?
Shawnita: I have someone who’s going to be around and has my best interests at heart and always believes in me no matter what. I like that in a person. To have that support system, basically.
What do you like about being a mentor?
Ebony: Being able to make a difference. To help and to support.
Any big plans for the future?
Shawnita: We’re going to stay how we are. We’ll be closer. I want to attend a four-year college and pursue my trade. I’m thinking about going to Stanford or a culinary institute in Virginia or Boston.
Ebony: My plan for the future is to start my own mentoring program for girls with help from Shawnita. And Shawnita has kind of been pushing me to get it started more sooner than later.
Shawnita, as a person with a passion for baking what’s your favorite food to make?
Shawnita: I like baking cakes. It doesn’t matter what kind. Just cake.
Just like the ingredients in Shawnita’s cakes, there’s a recipe to having a great mentoring relationship: a caring adult, a focus on the development and interests of the young person, fun activities, and open communication!
- Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP)
- RAMP Individualized Mentoring Plan
- Paving the Way to Work: A Guide to Career-Focused Mentoring for Youth with Disabilities
By Eric Cline, Program Coordinator at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development