In the late summer of 2012, a friend sent me a website she was working on. "Would you mind checking out the links and seeing if they work?". Taking a break from my regular day, I perused the site, clicked on links, and ended up on the 'Volunteering' page. In my years working full-time for a non-profit in the Lowcountry, I had yet to find my own personal volunteering niche outside of the paid days. Before my move to Charleston, from my hometown of Bristol, VA/TN, I had been active on the YWCA Junior Board and the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance Board (which is doing big things today!). Shortly after clicking on the 'Volunteering' page, I had filled out a mentor application, sent it in, and was contacted immediately about connecting with a student. That fall, I met Ashlyn.
Mentoring for the first time is pretty much how you'd imagine it to be. It's like your first day of school, only you're an adult and nervous to meet a kindergartner. Will she think I'm cool? Will we connect? What will we talk about? And yes, even our connection, as strong as it is now, took time. We started off coloring a lunch bag that I still bring every week after four years together. Sometimes, I'd bring my Kindle and she'd play a game on it. After time, though, our time together was effortless. Catching up on what we'd done in the past week, what was coming up, and a few bouts on the playground. Today, we still have lunch together once a week, but a couple of years ago, we started running 5K's together and this year, she started playing lacrosse games that I attend. Her school, Meeting Street Academy, always has some great extra events to attend, as well. Week before last, we were sweating it out at a kickball game over lunch.
Mentoring in the Lowcountry is a popular volunteer option, as it fits well into schedules of most 9-to-5ers and weekend/evening warriors. The non-profit, Be A Mentor, oversees most of the mentoring programs and provides resources to volunteers throughout the year, as well as social hours and a mentor appreciation dinner every year. In my three years attending the Be A Mentor dinner, they've always featured a strong mentor/mentee team to speak at the dinner. This year, Ashlyn and I were picked to present. We prepared by having a BAM staff member come to our regularly scheduled lunch to throw some practice questions our way. Ashlyn, ever the performer, answered the questions with ease and was ready for our time in front of the crowd. We were so excited to present that evening. She had me beaming the entire time (photographic evidence) and even caught me off guard for a moment, when she mentioned to the entire dinner that her favorite memory from our time together was when I told her I was having a baby. Well, that's one way to break the news!
As Ashlyn and I prepare for another summer apart, and letter writing ahead, I reflect on this past year of her growth- our growth as friends. Fourth grade is coming in fast, but like I told her under my breath at the dinner, we'll be friends for decades to come. My wish for her, as I'm sure is the same for many mentors, is that I impact her life in a strong, positive way. That the years ahead might not be so difficult as a teen because she has me to talk to about the trials. That her multiplication tables were a little easier because I sympathized with the fact that 3's were hard for me, too. That being a strong, smart woman is a positive attribute and not something she should shy away from.
Thirty minutes a week. That's the time commitment this volunteer opportunity required from me in the beginning. Which is why I encourage each of you to think about the impact you're making in your community and where you'd like to lend an extra hand. Maybe it's not mentoring, but gardening, coaching, or teaching a skill. Any way you look at it, giving makes you feel good. Check out these links below from our most recent weekly staff email:
- Why Giving to Others is Also Giving to Ourselves, Tiny Buddha
- Volunteering may be good for body and mind, Harvard Health Blog
- 5 Ways Giving is Good For You, UC Berkeley The Greater Good
- Create The Good - Another Good Resource for Local Volunteer Search
What volunteer activities do you enjoy? We're looking for a community group project for the Studio team to take part in, so leave your ideas below!