By Elijah Fagan-Solis, RAMP Program Coordinator in Albany, NY
In celebration of National Mentoring Month 2016, YOUTH POWER’s Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) site in Albany, NY wanted to share a personal, ‘in real life’ story that shows the power of mentoring in youth’s lives. The story highlights interview questions asked separately by Mentoring Coordinator Elijah Fagan Solis, with mentor Christina Narkon and mentee Alexander Hamm on their mentoring relationship. Christina, who recently moved out of the area, is a young professional who formerly worked with the New York State Senate Republican Campaign Committee. Her mentee, Alexander, is now a senior attending night school within the Albany City School District. RAMP is a program of the Institute for Educational Leadership based on NCWD/Youth foundational materials like the Guideposts for Success and Paving the Way to Work: A Guide to Career-Focused Mentoring for Youth with Disabilities
How did you both get involved in RAMP?
AH – Daphnne (Brown, Families Together in New York State’s Director of Family Involvement and Outreach) introduced me to RAMP when I was 13 years old. She gave me the opportunity to get extra work done for school.
CN – I got involved in RAMP during my undergraduate career. I had been working in an elementary school and I was helping to run a youth ministry program, so a friend (who was a mentor at the time) suggested I look into RAMP!
Alexander, with RAMP being career-focused, what career are you interested in?
AH – I’m interested in going to a law school and focus on criminal law. I also have thought about being a veterinarian.
AH – I remember when I first met Christina she was really big on teaching me manners.
CN – I will never forget the first time I met Alexander! I was brand new to the program, and as soon as I walked in he briefly paused from chatting with everyone to point at me and declare that I would be his mentor.
How has your relationship changed since that first day?
AH – Since we first met, our relationship has grown to be stronger. I feel as if I could ask Christina for advice if I need it.
CN – My relationship with Alexander has surely grown over the past few years. We first bonded over his search for a job. We built his resume together and I went with him to apply at various establishments. Now, I visit him at his place (or places!) of work. We discuss more in-depth issues now, as well. Just last month, I showed Alexander how to register to vote and we discussed politics, our civic duties, and various things that showed up on the Albany City ballot this past November. It is so interesting watching Alex grow from a student at Albany High to an adult who has intelligent and informed opinions about his community and how it can be better run.
What do you talk about or do when you are together?
AH – When we are together we talk about how I can better myself and better ways for me to budget my money. Last time we were together we talked about Republicans and Democrats and voting; I am now a registered voter.
CN – We talk about tons of things! We discuss everything from current events, to social media etiquette, to Alexander’s short-term and long-term goals in regards to his education, career, finances, and more
What goals have you been able to accomplish together as mentor and mentee?
AH – One goal me and her have worked on together would be treating people with respect and having manners. She told me being rude wouldn’t get me far with job opportunities and other things in life. With school, she told me I could argue with as many teachers as I want but it’s not going to change the fact that I have to graduate at the end of the year. Christina also helped me with dressing for an interview, and even brought me to places so I could apply for jobs. Her tips with interview clothing and manners helped me to get the job I have today.
CN – The first thing Alexander told me (and he told me over and over) was that he wanted- no, NEEDED- a job. Within a few weeks of meeting, we built his resume and started searching for jobs for him. He has since held a variety of jobs including managerial positions!
Do you approach life and school differently since Christina has been your mentor?
AH – Yes! It all falls back on the arguing with people, like a boss at work or teacher at school. No matter how I feel about them, I still need to do what I need to do and I can’t let anyone bring me down. Also, because of Christina, I now take notes at school and go home and study them, which I never did before.
Christina, how has mentoring Alexander changed your life? Has he taught you anything?
CN – Had I never been Alexander’s mentor, I would surely be a different person. He has taught me so much about how I approach life. I have never known Alexander to be pessimistic; he is a go-getter, and brings humor and an energetic dynamic to every situation. I try to hold this same approach now.
Tell us about one of your favorite memories together.
AH – One of my favorite memories is doing the Coca-Cola and Mentos experiment with her. I thought it was funny trying to get the Mentos into the bottle and the different solutions that we tried but didn’t work – it just brought our bond closer. Also, when we went to go pick up the application for Wendy’s, she helped me answer questions I wouldn’t have known and let me put her down as a reference. It meant a lot to me.
CN – I can’t pick just one favorite memory! I think my favorite memory has been getting coffee with Alexander and showing him how to register to vote. So many young people don’t even care about this important civic duty. It was amazing discussing this process with him! I think he might be more into politics than I am!
What has been most beneficial to you by having Christina as a mentor?
AH – Most beneficial? Woo! Oh man… Being able to put her down as a reference for a job, being able to say I’ve known her for about 3 years and have someone who could say I was a hard worker helps. Also, she helped me get to RAMP when I needed. Helping me get through school, my homework, talking me out of and diffusing situations that were hard like getting suspended and, helping me find alternates to stay out of trouble.
Christina, what do you like about being a mentor?
CN – Being a mentor has given me an opportunity to guide someone not much younger than me on the very tumultuous journey called life. I am so grateful that I get to be someone in Alexander’s corner. Every time he has told me that I taught him something, or I helped him achieve something, I get a sense of happiness that cannot be obtained elsewhere!
Do you plan to continue your relationship even though you both are now states away?
AH – I hate the fact that she is states away! Nothing will change our relationship though. I plan to stay in contact with her and I know I can contact her whenever I need her. When I graduate, I hope to invite her to my graduation.
CN – Since I just relocated quite a few states away, my main goal is to keep in touch with Alex. Most importantly, I want him to continue to know that I will always have his back and that I will always be available to give him guidance. In my opinion, distance shouldn’t and will not affect mentorship!
Do you have any big plans for the future?
AH – I look forward to graduating high school, going to college and law school, and pursing my law dreams.
CN – My plan here in Georgia is to actually make working with youths like Alex a full time career! Until then, I have recently taken a position as a Lead Teacher, allowing me to educate while mentoring less experienced teachers. My experience as a mentor is something I tap into daily, if not hourly, as I train and guide other teachers. There is a powerful mentoring effect demonstrated by research and the experiences of young people, just like Alexander, who are connected to a mentor. Mentoring is linked to improved academic, social, and economic prospects for people, and ultimately strengthens our community. Personally, it has been a joy to watch Alexander grow up physically, socially, emotionally, and mentally before my very eyes as he continues to strive towards his career aspirations and reach goal after goal after goal. He has been steadily employed for over a year, most times at two locations, has made thoughtful decisions when it comes to his friends and social life, all while completing his high school education by attending night school, a decision he made to stay out of trouble and focus on his course work. His story is why I do what I do as a Mentoring Coordinator. I couldn’t be more proud and plan to be cheering him on at his graduation.