2017 Greatest Hits #9: Changing The Community, One Mentor At A Time

(During December we will be reprising some of  “2017’s greatest hits” from the Act Locally Waco blog. I couldn’t possibly pick my favorites – so I used the simple (cop out?)  approach of pulling up the 10 blog posts that got the most “opens” according to our Google Analytics.  It is an intriguing collection that gives at least a little insight into the interests and concerns of Act Locally Waco readers. I hope this “Top 10” idea inspires you to go back and re-read your personal favorites.  There have been so many terrific ones… If you would like to see the Top 10 according to Google Analytics, here’s the link: 2017 Greatest Hits.  Merry Christmas! — ABT) 

By Stephanie Korteweg

When I used to think of the word “mentoring,” I used to get this instant mental image of a Big Brothers and Big Sister’s commercial.  Almost immediately my next thought was, “I don’t have enough time, and what in the heck would I do if I became a mentor?” We all sometimes have this sort of knee jerk reaction to things that are out of our comfort zone. Think for a moment about a time when you did something that caused you a little fear, whether it was something adventurous like skydiving, or trying something new like a new job or becoming a parent. Sometimes the things that cause us insecurity and a little bit of fear are some of most intrinsically rewarding experiences that we talk about for years.

Let me ask you a question… how did you learn the things you know today? What person taught you those things? Who taught you how to change a tire, write a resume, how shake hands. Who was there for you during a difficult time in your life? If you think about it long enough you will probably think of several people who helped you when you needed it. Maybe they gave you advice, or maybe their presence made you feel like you weren’t alone.

I think the biggest barrier to becoming a mentor is the definition of “mentoring” we carry around in our heads.  We need to put aside that old rigid framework–you know what I’m talking about. It’s the one that leaves you feeling overwhelmed before you begin.  I think it’s time we start looking at what mentoring really is — an intentional investment in a person’s life, particularly a young person’s life.

And, what if I were to tell you that mentoring is one way we can help transform our community?

I’ve been a part of a mentoring group called the Mentor Coalition for the past five years. As soon as I joined I realized that the mentoring opportunities here are as diverse as our community. We have organizations that require a relatively low time commitment and others with a substantial time commitment. There are mentoring organizations that focus on high school students, others that focus on elementary students. Some are highly structured programs, others are a lot more flexible in their structure.  In the Mentor Coalition each organization does their part, working together like the gears in a bike, to see our community changed for the better.

A study from Child Trends called “Mentoring: A Promising Strategy for Youth Development,” showed that “overall, youth participating in mentoring relationships experience positive academic returns, better attendance, an improve chance of continuing on to higher education, and better attitude toward school.”

Another study, The Consequences of Dropping Out of High School, Joblessness and Jailing for High School Dropouts and the High Costs for Taxpayers,” states “The incidence of institutionalization problems among young high school dropouts was more than 63 times higher than among young four-year college graduates.”

There’s a correlation between the success of the youth of our community and health of our community. I’m not just talking about the old Michael Jackson song here, but the children really are our future. They are the future entrepreneurs, doctors, teachers, social workers, police for our community.

Our American mentality looks for the quick fix. We are in the age of instant gratification, and we have forgotten about the simplicity of consistency, the power of a smile and the impact of an encouragement.

I was recently speaking with a truancy judge and she told me a story of a family that had been in to see her several times. By the third time she asked to see only the kids in her office. As she sat there with the kids, she pulled an alarm clock from her desk drawer. She gave it to the kids and showed them how to use it. I remember her telling me how inadequate that action felt to her and how she really wanted to do something more. I asked if she’d ever seen the kids back in her court.  She paused, thought about it for a minute looked back at me and said, “actually, I haven’t seen them since.”

Don’t discount the small things. Don’t let the fear of the unknown keep you from investing in a kid’s life. Don’t believe the lie that your small investment won’t make an impact. Join more than 800 other individuals in our community who are making an impact by mentoring- go to our website and get involved!

The Mentor Coalition is a group of representatives from mentoring agencies that serve young people in the Greater Waco area. These organizations work with local schools and families to provide necessary academic and social support to our area’s youth. The goal of the Coalition is to double the number of people who are currently mentoring in Waco to a total of 2,000 mentors! Please visit http://www.prosperwaco.org/mentor-coalition/ for more information on how to become a mentor. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.



It’s the end of the year and I’m sad…

by Ashley Bean Thornton

I headed into the last month of 2016 feeling more melancholy and tired than usual. I can point to three rocks in particular that have been heavy to me this year.

Racial tensions – Back in May we as a community paused to reflect on the anniversary of the illegal lynching and burning of a 17-year old black man named Jesse Washington, an event often referred to as “The Waco Horror.”  Looking back on that service, it feels like a grim symmetry that the 100th anniversary year of that terrible event would also be a year fraught with race-related tension, controversy and bloody violence.  In a strange way it is embarrassing for me to even mention how exhausting this tension has been for me this year.  I can see in the faces and hear in the words of my Black friends and neighbors that the weight I felt this year is a weight they have already been carrying for a very long time.  I know it will never weigh as heavily on me as it does on them.

Sexual assault and response at Baylor – I am a Baylor alum and I have worked there for almost twenty years, plus I am a human being and a woman.  Everything about this situation has been sad and bad to me:  the awful nature of the crimes themselves and the toll on the victims; the feeling of unfairness that comes with knowing that just because I am a woman I am more vulnerable to this kind of violence myself; the swirling currents and undercurrents of pain, blame, fear, sexism, and even racism in the general discussion of the events and the response; the personal concern for people whose reputations have been fairly or unfairly damaged;  the angry feeling that we are being relentlessly pecked at by buzzards who won’t let the story go; the gnawing guilt that comes with “just wanting it to go away” even though I know it is far too important an issue to sweep under the rug.   It has worn me out.

The presidential election –  Yes, my candidate lost.  But that is not why this election weighs heavily on me, at least it’s not the whole reason. More than any election I can ever remember, this one felt like a year-long slog through muck and disappointment.  There is a certain beauty in watching two fine teams battle it out in any sport, including politics. When your team loses you walk away from the game feeling disappointed with the outcome, but generally good about the worthiness of the game itself.  That’s how a presidential election should feel.  That is not how this one felt.

I don’t want to descend into whining. (“Too late!” I can hear some of you saying.)  But, I will also say that I am not particularly ashamed of my sadness.  I think I am justified in feeling sad about the things I have described above.  Frankly, I would wonder about myself if I didn’t feel sad.  To some extent, sadness is good for you…for me…for us as a society.  How might we treat each other if there were no such thing as sadness?  Still, in a world that thrives on a constant feed of instant gratification, we don’t seem to have much appreciation or patience for sadness any more.  I think we need to reclaim it.

The kind of sadness I am feeling now is a kind of confusion.  It’s a feeling of being in limbo.  It’s like I don’t understand how the world works anymore. It is unsettling – I was settled into one way of thinking and being, and evidence has come along that has unsettled me.   I was settled into thinking that racial tensions had mostly gotten better, that bad things don’t happen in places full of good people (like Baylor), that there are certain unspoken rules of civil engagement that we all generally share.  Now I am unsettled.  Being unsettled and confused, I have slowed down to try to figure out what to do next. It may take me a while.

Just because this time is melancholy, however, doesn’t mean it is all bad.  This time of sadness is a time of loss of confidence and that means it can be a time for humble learning.  It is a time of vulnerability, and that means it can be a time for developing an appreciation for kindness. It’s a time of loss, and that means it can be a time for realizing what is really important.  It’s a time of mixed feelings, and that means it can be a time of openness to new ways of seeing.  It’s a time of disappointment and that means it can be a time for backing up and taking the long view.

In an odd way, it can be a time to relax, to give myself permission to go for a long walk, to clean out a drawer, to make something with my hands.  It can be a time for still and quiet.

Sometimes we think that just because a lot of something is bad, we can’t stand even a little.  But that is a mistake.  Too much salt in the soup ruins it, but a little makes it better.  I don’t want my whole life to be spent in confusion and limbo and melancholy, but I am not afraid of some.

I may not have intentionally invited sadness to my holiday celebrations, but since it’s here, I’m not working too hard to kick it out. Maybe it has a secret to tell me that I will need in the New Year.

This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, she works at Baylor, helps out with Act locally Waco, and facilitates the Waco Foundational Employment Network which is a part of Prosper Waco.  She likes to walk and doesn’t mind at all if you honk and wave when you see her.

 The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.