Being a Mentor

Emily:

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. 

One of our first outings; seeing Annie at the Dock Street Theatre

One of our first outings; seeing Annie at the Dock Street Theatre

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.

Born to play lacrosse

Born to play lacrosse

And run! Our first 5K together this year

And run! Our first 5K together this year

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! 

Ashlyn and I with her supportive parents and sister, shortly after she announced to a room full of people that I was expecting

Ashlyn and I with her supportive parents and sister, shortly after she announced to a room full of people that I was expecting

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.

My beautiful girl- inside and out

My beautiful girl- inside and out

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:

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!

Being silly... as we do

Being silly... as we do

Lowcountry Hearts

Emily:
This past Saturday, I walked into a restaurant to meet friends for dinner (notedly: before the Garth Brooks concert). Glancing into the sea of people, I spot Andy first. Hair in a chignon, stunning earrings, and a white faux fur coat that's bound to catch anyone's eye. First impression, this is Andy. She's beautiful, bold, and wasn't afraid to rock a 15 pound wedding dress when she married the man of her dreams this past year. But we're not here to talk about Andy's fashion (oh, but maybe we are closer to Charleston Fashion Week), we're here to talk about her heart. Andy's true passion, outside of her close-knit family that includes her husband Travis and French bulldog, Bernice, is her selfless job as a Certified Cardiovascular Perfusionist at the Medical University of South Carolina. One where she wears a beeper at all times, to be on call for the lives of others. Just like she's on call for her friends 24/7, with a heart (and love) of gold.

And now we present to you...

Andy:

Doesn't it seem like there's a holiday for everything these days? Just last week, I saw where it was National Chocolate Donut Day. Right before everyone's favorite, Valentine's Day. We expect to see heart shaped boxes, chocolate hearts, heart shaped balloons, and love all around, but that's not what I'm here to talk about.  Silently hiding underneath the Hallmark giant, is a smaller, less celebrated February date that makes our collective hearts skip a beat. It’s Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) Awareness Week. 

CHD Awareness Week is meant to bring awareness to the community and bond those individuals and families who are affected. CHD is an umbrella term for any defect in heart structure present at birth. It can take many forms, ranging from a simple “hole in the heart”, to a Blue-Baby, to syndromes incompatible with life.

The cause of a CHD is often unknown. Each year approximately 40,000 babies are born in the United States with a congenital heart defect and approximately two to three million individuals are thought to be living in the United States with CHD. Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect, with 1 in every 100 children born having CHD. Those statistics are too haunting for any mother or family to bear alone.

Luckily, as if life isn’t perfect enough living in the Lowcountry, we have MUSC Children’s Hospital. MUSC is the only pediatric cardiac surgery center in the state. Every neonate, infant, toddler, child, pre-teen, and teenager with CHD will pass through MUSC’s door. MUSC is something truly special. It has a highly specialized team of professionals who dedicate their lives to saving the smallest members of our community; the Pediatric Heart Program.

Read an email directly from the Chief of Pediatric CT Surgery, Dr. Scott Bradley:

“To all-I want to let you know some good news about our program. We recently learned that the MUSC Pediatric Heart Program received the highest rating (3-stars) from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) Congenital Heart Surgery Database. The STS database includes essentially all of the pediatric heart programs in North America; there are currently 117 participating programs. [ . . .] overall outcomes are graded from 1-star (worse than expected) to 3-star (better than expected)[. . .] Only 10 out of the 117 programs in the database received a 3-star rating in the most recent public report. Due to the statistics involved, it is particularly hard for a smaller program to achieve a 3-star rating, which makes our accomplishment even more significant [. . .] this achievement reflects the efforts of everyone involved in the pediatric heart program. We should all be very proud of this -- Congratulations!”

MUSC is one of the top 10 hospitals in the country for little hearts, ranking next to giants in NYC, Philadelphia, and Boston. This achievement is a conglomeration of years of dedication, research, studies, practice, and education. And of course, love. Many times, the team operates on a small, sick baby for hours, and the surgeon stays scrubbed in from 7am until 7pm, never taking a break or even breaking scrub. And after an entire day in the operating room, I see the surgeon’s pull a chair next to the baby’s bed in the ICU. Instead of going home to their own families, they spend the night at their patient’s side. That’s love. 

Image: The Room2Cru, the pediatric heart team operating

Image: The Room2Cru, the pediatric heart team operating

Here are stories of the lives CHD has touched, specifically MUSC's own success story Jake Paul.

How You Can Help
There are dozens of organizations, volunteer programs, and funds that aid the Children’s Hospital. From radio-thons, luncheons, sporting events,  and races, the Lowcountry really cares about is children. Here is a quick list of upcoming events to help you get more involved.

Alicia and Andy at the MUSC's Little Hearts walk

Alicia and Andy at the MUSC's Little Hearts walk

What's Next
As an extra reward, MUSC is building a brand new Women’s and Children’s Medical Pavillion. The MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital plans are already underway. It will be a beautiful, and much needed, addition to the MUSC district. It will mirror the current Ashley River Tower, and will be a state-of-the-art medical center for South Carolina’s women, children, and babies. It will open its doors in 2019. 

My Final Thoughts
MUSC’s Children’s Hospital is a center for hope. The Lowcountry, and all of South Carolina, is beyond fortunate to have such a special organization in its own downtown. Congenital Heart Disease, although the most common birth defect, is just one of the many medical issues threatening our families and their happiness. The more we educate and familiarize ourselves and our community, the more progress we can create.  If there is one thing I have learned as a member of this amazing team and community, there is more love in those hospital walls and sandy beaches than all the Valentine’s day cards combined.

-Dafne Andrea Chianella Collins, CCP

Charleston Junior Woman's Club

The Lowcountry is known for it's scenic views, history, food, and more, but do you know about it's propensity to give back? Today, Janeen Vosseller and Frances Deschenes talk to us about how joining a civic organization changed their lives for the better and how you can get involved in helping your own community- all while making new friends.

Janeen:
As a College of Charleston student, turned full-time Lowcountry resident, my closest friends here were from my college days. However, after graduation those close friends one by one all moved throughout the country for amazing, new opportunities. I remained in the Lowcountry with the perfect job and a wonderful boyfriend, but no particularly, close friends. I decided to turn to a civic organization to help me get out there and make new friends. The Lowcountry offers a plethora of activities and clubs that anyone can participate in, but with a heavy work load six months out of the year and not liking any activity that involves a ball or frisbee being thrown at me, which to join? I sought out my mom for advice and she suggested what she did at my age: the Junior Woman’s Club. I decided, "Why not?". At the very least, I'd end up volunteering for a few charities that support our community. Luckily for me, I knew someone who was in the club already, so I reached out to her about information on Charleston’s chapter. The response back was nothing but praise and encouragement to join. From my first volunteer event, I knew I had made the right decision. This club is made up of ladies who want to help their community become a better place, while opening up a window to meeting new people. The members are a wonderful representation of Charleston; women who are from Charleston and out-of-state, work in all different industries from health to education to business, and in all different stages of life. Everyone is ready to welcome you to the club and treat you like a friend. Bonds are made quickly in the club, while you are getting your hands dirty and stepping outside your comfort zone at volunteer events. The social events where we catch up are just the cherry on top of it all. The Junior Woman’s Club is a wonderful club where life-long bonds are forged while making the Lowcountry community a better place.

About Janeen:
Janeen is an audit associate at Johnson Lambert, LLP in downtown Charleston. She is originally from Cranford, NJ, but now resides in Mt. Pleasant where she enjoys exploring the local parks with her dog Dori and grilling out with her boyfriend, Michael.

Janeen with her boyfriend, Michael, and their dog Dori

Janeen with her boyfriend, Michael, and their dog Dori

 

Frances:
For the past five years of living in the Lowcountry, I have seen it receive many accolades; from the top travel destination in the world to friendliest city in the U.S. There is one other title the Lowcountry deserves to be acknowledged for, and that is being the most GIVING. Maybe I never noticed it until the summer of last year, but the people of Charleston come from a giving culture. Last year, I needed a change. I had a sports injury involving my ACL and couldn't participate in the athletic and active things that I had grown accustomed to doing here in the Lowcountry. Luckily for me, a last minute invite to a charity event opened my eyes to a group of women that I would not ever be able to replace. I joined the Charleston Junior Women’s Club after only meeting 2 members.  Their willingness to give back to their community and amazing personalities led me to attend a member meeting at the Main Library, a decision that I am glad I made. In that year, I have seen these amazing women volunteer at Lowcountry Orphan Relief, Race for a Cure, Florence Crittenton Programs of SC, and multiple occasions for the PlayToday Foundation.  Although the main focus of the group is to give back to the community, they also know how to have a good time and bring the best out of everyone they interact with. Through social events on the Palmetto Breeze, to happy hour at Taco Boy, and the occasional Cypress burger night after our monthly meeting, these women truly invest in each other and the community.  I loved being a part of this group so much that I encouraged two other close friends to join with me. I have grown and changed for the better thanks to these ladies and am excited to go into this new club year as a board member.

About Frances:
Frances is a Corporate Sales Manager at the DoubleTree Charleston Airport. Originally from Charlotte, NC,  she has lived in Charleston for 5 years. She can be found Sunday's during the fall cheering on her beloved Carolina Panthers with friends. 

Frances and her boyfriend Steven

Frances and her boyfriend Steven

About the Charleston Junior Woman's Club:
The Charleston Junior Woman's Club (CJWC) is a civic, nonprofit organization, founded in 1966. All members of CJWC are united by dedication to community improvement through volunteerism. The CJWC leadership stresses community involvement among its members, who in turn donate their time and talent to numerous organizations. 

Frances and Janeen volunteering at Lowcountry Orphan Relief

Frances and Janeen volunteering at Lowcountry Orphan Relief

If you are interested in learning more about becoming a member of the Charleston Junior Women's Club, visit the membership page or email info@cjwc.org.

Bonus:

Janeen beating Frances out for the bouquet toss at Emily's wedding (Photo: DreamPop Media)

Janeen beating Frances out for the bouquet toss at Emily's wedding (Photo: DreamPop Media)