Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Mentoring Older Adult Brings Unique Challenges & Rewards

Some stories just tell themselves…like the story of Byron and David, mentor and mentee. When asked to describe their mentoring relationship, David spoke of Byron’s genuineness. “Byron’s been incredibly sensitive and responsive,” says David.

David and Byron’s mentoring relationship is unique on many levels. David, a 62-yr-old retired physician, is not your stereotypical homeless person. He’s neatly dressed (always), meticulously groomed and often uses words that need to be looked up in a medical dictionary for comprehension.  David’s nearly three- year stint with homelessness was a result of a litany of health issues; not until David moved into his new apartment has his health started to rebound. Byron has been a part of his stellar return to health.

Mentoring an older adult has its own dynamics as Byron has visited David in the hospital, in rehabilitation centers and has accompanied him to various doctor appointments. Byron, a retired Eli Lilly employee, is happy to do so. “I’ve been very blessed. I’ve always felt a desire to help others.”  Byron retired early in life in order to enjoy travel, spend time with family (he’s a new grandfather) as well as give back through volunteerism. “What I like about Trusted Mentors…more than other things I do (as a volunteer is that) this is more personal.” Byron speaks of how appreciative David always is and how watching him progress with his health has kept him motivated to mentor. In the midst of walking together down this path towards health, the two have visibly built a close bond.

David got connected to Byron, his Trusted Mentor, through HIP (Homeless Initiative Program).  There, his social worker Lillian, assisted David with finding stable housing. David had the insight that he would need strong relationship connections in order to assist him with maintaining stability and meeting his goals of becoming healthy and whole again.  “Where I live, there’s nobody there that I can talk to like I talk to Byron. We talk about everything—sports, politics…” (Byron grins and mentions that he doesn’t even discuss politics with his wife). “We always find something to talk about.”  

As we parted ways, Byron and David were mapping out a plan to help David gain more strength and mobility, to include working out at the YMCA and walking on local trails once the weather improves. Byron retold his rendition of the star fish story to David—“if all of us did one thing to help out another, the world would be a better place.” David finishes his cup of coffee and you can see the gratitude written on his face.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

We are not our labels--a renewed perspective for the Holidays

So it makes sense that, working for a nonprofit, our boss would give us designated paid "time off" each month to volunteer. And it makes sense that I would spend those precious volunteer hours mentoring (no-brainer).

What never ceases to amaze me though is how much I gain as a volunteer mentor for Trusted Mentors. I've been a social worker for going on twenty years (seriously)---and I find that the mentoring relationship is especially unique. Yes, my background gives me certain insights into addictions, domestic abuse, homelessness, and other social issues that our mentees (and some mentors) have faced. Still, there is nothing quite like the experience of walking alongside someone down their rocky and well-beaten path.

Mentoring my new mentee is no different. She is a vision of strength and fortitude. Looking at her, you see a young, attractive, highly energetic woman. Her energy and style make her seem younger than her chronological age. When I met her at Salvation Army Shelter for Women and Children, I liked her immediately. One of the first things she said to me was something like, "Are you sure you're ready for me?" I'm thinking, “Do you have any idea what my "normal" life even looks like lately?...and yes, I'm sure."

The beginning of our relationship was a virtual download of her life---addictions and failed relationships, peppered with hopes and dreams. She said that she felt "safe" telling me anything. She would preface some of her musings with, "Are you sure you don't have to tell anybody this stuff?"

 "Yes, I'm sure--as long as you're not a harm to yourself or others." Okay, good, here comes another download.

And I have been more than happy to be present for her, to be an active listener, an encouraging voice, a cheerleader, a believer in her own hopes and dreams (even when she's not so sure). "You can do this. You are not alone. You are stronger than you think." These are my mantras.

I realize that these are also my own mantras. You see, she and I are really not so different. We are both fundamentally women, we are mothers, we are partners/wives, we are both high energy and highly motivated. We both have our "demons," our "triggers," our "old ways" of thinking and doing. We are both on a life path filled with hopes and dreams that include being a good parent and making a difference in the lives of others.

I had the pleasure just last week of taking my mentee out to lunch for her birthday. We started off with a birthday hug, when she proclaimed that "that was my first birthday hug!" We enjoyed a hamburger at Bru Burger because, living down the street in the shelter, she smells the wafting scents of the restaurant daily and has developed quite the craving. At the end of our lunch, before I parted to return to work, I told her that I not only saw her as my mentee, but also now as my friend. I told her that she and I are not so different. You see, she is not a jumbled mass of labels--homeless, ex-felon, mentally ill, addict--and neither am I. We are, at a basic level, both human. We share laughter and tears, she's getting to know my struggles as well, and she loves to share her own advice.

It's only been a couple of months, but I feel like I've known her forever. Our relationship is authentic. She knows she can be real with me (and vice versa). All I have to do is listen and encourage. If you can do these things for another adult trying to stabilize their life, please consider being a volunteer Trusted Mentor.  I promise, your life will be enriched.

 By Shelley Landis, Mentor Match Manager and Volunteer Mentor

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Mentoring Domestic Violence Survivors--One of the Many Faces of Homelessness

So, you know about Trusted Mentors. You know that we mentor adults coming out of homelessness, re-entering the community from incarceration, and aging out of foster care.  I’ve been with Trusted Mentors for more than three years now and have found that my favorite part of the job is learning about the many faces and facets of homelessness—to meet those faces and to delve into their stories and triumphs.


One of the faces of homelessness is survivors of domestic violence. A recent mentor -match was held at Coburn Place Safe Haven. Our new mentee is fascinating enough—her story is inspirational and really demonstrates the will to survive under dire circumstances. However, this mentor also has a compelling story.


Our volunteer mentor, Tracy, is also a domestic violence survivor. During the match meeting at Coburn, she shared pieces of her dramatic story with her new mentee.  The mentor and mentee immediately found a level of understanding that can only be shared between two abuse survivors (although I see strong connections made all the time even when mentor and mentee come from completely different walks of life!).


At a follow- up meeting, Tracy was able to share with me some key points to remember when building understanding with a survivor of domestic violence.


·          Realize that your mentee may return to their abuser, as the domestic abusive relationship is cyclical by nature. Despite the abuse, connections are difficult to sever, and abusers often give the message that they’ll do better next time.

·          If your mentee returns to the abusive relationship, continue to be supportive in a nonjudgmental manner.  The survivor is already feeling shame. To avoid feeding into that negative emotion, avoid saying things like-- “I can’t believe you went back with him. We told you not to go back.”

·          Continue to reach out to your mentee, even if they are unresponsive. They need to know that someone cares.

·          Give your mentee messages like-- “You’re awesome” and “You’re worth it.” Tracy sends her mentee daily texts of encouragement.

One of our other mentors, a woman mentoring a survivor through the Julian Center, was somewhat familiar with the cycle of domestic abuse, as she had a close friend who had been victimized. Although this mentor hadn’t been through it herself, she was still able to support her mentee as she began to stabilize her life with solid housing, job training, and employment. This mentor provided a steady voice of support, encouragement, and guidance while her mentee rebuilt a life for herself and her children.


These mentors provide us with valuable insight and knowledge to share—for which we are grateful—but, whatever life experience you may have had, know that it is enough. All of our volunteer mentors are provided with a four-hour mentor orientation and training, as well as ongoing support and continued education from trusted Mentors’ staff. Each of our mentors brings their own gifts and talents to the table when mentoring. Together, we can affect real change in the lives of our mentees.


We are truly thankful for all of our mentors who devote their times to touch the life of another.    


Friday, April 3, 2015

Young Adult Aging Out of Foster Care Shares about the Impact of Mentoring!

Mentee Interview: read all about how Tia’s life was impacted by her mentoring relationship!

Shelley: What happened when you turned 18 and aged out of the foster care system in IN?

Tia: I was thrown out to the wolves (without a support system).   People expected me to fall into the same stereotypes as others aging out of the foster care system.

Shelley: How did your mentor, Henecia, impact your life as a young adult aging out of foster care?

Tia: She opened my eyes to a bigger world, a world where someone believes in me and sees my potential versus seeing me as a product of my environment.  She was always positive and invested time in me.  She helped me structure my future.

Shelley: How would you and Henecia spend your time together?

Tia: She exposed me to art galleries, restaurants (Olive Garden, I had never been to a sit down restaurant!), organic stores, fashion boutiques, family gatherings. Sometimes we would just hang out in my apartment and chill. At first, I was embarrassed to have her over because I didn’t live in the best neighborhood. Then I realized that she approached me without judgment—she accepted me for who I was (not a statistic) and that felt good.  
Shelley: What was unique about your relationship with your Trusted Mentor?

Tia: She took me out of my bubble and exposed me to her world. She had done everything that I wanted to do in life…modeling, military, career, etc. She believed in me and helped me figure out what I was good at. She had different resources and connections (for career goals). My relationship with Henecia was personal as she allowed me into her life—we spent holidays together and I got to know her family. She invested her time and energy which showed that she cared about me.
Shelley: What would you say to other young people about mentoring?
Tia: Let someone else in. Don't try to do it alone. It takes being vulnerable but it is so worth it. Henecia helped me create a vision for my future that has been lasting. Our relationship still stands as she is the God mother of my son, Jase.
I had the opportunity to interview Tia as she was scheduled for a modeling shoot for our Virginia Ave. Folk Fest tee (See link below!). Tia and I spent the day together as she also shared her story with a group of young people from River Valley Resources, a partner agency. Following Tia’s talk, three young women asked for mentors! Please contact us on our website to fill out a volunteer inquiry—we’re always in high need of volunteer mentors (to mentor more Tia’s)! We ask for a one year commitment to make the difference in someone's life.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Home, not Homeless, for the Holidays


Many of our mentees spend the Holidays alone. Family connections are often times frayed and friends are inconsistent at best. For some of our mentees, this will be their first Christmas in years not spent either on the streets or behind bars.

This is true for one of our Craine House mentees, Shy (not real name). I recently met Shy during one of our Trusted Mentors Recognition Night events when she accepted an award from her mentor, Mary. Shy confidently took the microphone from her mentor’s hands and launched into a heartfelt message of gratitude. “Mary sees me for me. She doesn’t see me as a number, as a criminal, as an ex-offender. She sees me for who I truly am.” Shy so eloquently verbalized the value of the mentoring relationship that I quickly tracked her down after the event to ask for an interview.

I met Shy a week later at her then home, the Craine House. The Craine House is one of our agency partners that provides a secure and structured environment where women serve their sentences for non-violent felonies. It offers a unique and positive environment in which preschool children may live with their mothers.

At 27, Shy has lived many lives, and has the wisdom to show for it. She’s birthed two children, spent years incarcerated in state prisons and has moved from a tiny rural town to a bustling urban community.

In exactly seven days, Shy will begin a new chapter of her life. She will move into an apartment, along with her two kids, while maintaining the job she’s held while living at the Craine House. “I’m mostly nervous about how my children (ages five and eight) are going to react.” Since they were ages five and two, her children have been raised back in her small rural hometown by their grandmother.

When asked how having a mentor has helped her to stay positive and focused while in the Craine House, Shy spoke of the enduring value of friendship. “At first, I mostly wanted a mentor to get out in the community.”  It didn’t take long for Shy and Mary’s mentoring relationship to blossom. “I love having Mary in my life. She’s not like a counselor or case manager. She shares her life with me. She’s a true friend. It’s great knowing you have someone you can trust and have freedom to be yourself with.”  

Mary and Shy have indeed explored the community. Shy shared a story about a special outing that Margo planned as a surprise for her mentee. Shy shared, “Mary doesn’t like the outdoors, but she knows  I do.” Mary planned a day hike around the IMA’s 100 Acres Woods one sunny fall day. Shy says that Mary was out of her comfort zone: “She hates nature and bugs… She planned this outing because she knew it was something I’d enjoy. That meant a lot.”

As Shy makes the transition from the Craine House to self-sufficiency, she is thankful to have her Trusted Mentor, Mary, as a support and friend along the way. Shy knows that she’s not alone on this journey. We are thankful that this Christmas will truly be a bright one for Shy and her family. We are thankful for Mary and all the mentors who make a difference.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

You can shop on Amazon and support Trusted Mentors

Make the switch to Amazon Smile, which allows YOU to shop while AMAZON give a percentage of your purchase back to us! Amazon will donate 0.5% of the price of your eligible AmazonSmile purchases to Trusted Mentors whenever you shop on AmazonSmile. AmazonSmile is the same Amazon you know, and an easy way to give back. You'll be able to access the same products, same prices, and same service as always. Support Trusted Mentors with your Amazon purchases at! 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Mentor Musings-A Coming of Age story as one mentor comes to terms with her role in "world changing" or not...

Guest Blogger, Erin Aquino

After meeting with Erin for an hour at Yat’s for her mentor interview, I asked her to kindly share her story by being a guest blogger for the month of October. I think you’ll enjoy hearing about her life, her adventures, and her “lessons learned” from being in AmeriCorps, the PeaceCorps, and now a Trusted Mentor. Welcome Erin to Trusted Mentors!

I am about to become an official Trusted Mentor, and I want to be honest and straightforward right off the bat-- I am not here to change the world. And neither should you be.

If you looked at my resume’, you might think I was lying to you: AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, ESL Tutor, Refugee Youth Mentor, and the list goes on in an almost embarrassing volunteer, superbly hippy-like manner. It may seem like I’m trying to change the world- and make it a better place, a more peaceful place. I am not.

Again, I am not here to change this world. And if I were to really think I could, I never would. Here are some examples of how I came to this seemingly despairing point of view.

1. My parents taught me so.

I was born and raised on an organic vegetable farm. My parents were the only organic vegetable farmers in probably all of Indiana, and nearly the Midwest. They farmed organically long before farming organically was cool. I guess you could call them the “hipsters” of the agriculture scene. So, like anybody that does something against the grain, they fought hard to prove that “being green” is beneficial to our bodies and our environment. Some people even believed organic foods were more likely to kill people!  The core belief behind their growing dictated they could not change the world-in this case, the world representing nature. They could not manipulate and make Mother Nature better. Rather, they wanted to work with it.

A quick example is the potato beetle. For years, this beetle ravaged our crops. They could have used a quick-acting pesticide, but instead they picked and killed those beetles by hand. But they made sure to leave all natural predators such as the soldier beetle. Several years later, the population of potato beetles balanced out. Good bugs AND bad bugs. They built a relationship with nature, and made themselves stronger farmers with stronger soil and plants in order to withstand her furies, and always be able to enjoy her pleasantries. My parents did not try to manipulate nature but work with it to create a balance. This philosophy played a large role in my outlook on the world. I can’t change it, but I can work with it.

2. Idealism failed.

First, I thought college represented intellectualism and activism- putting our cerebral capacities to work and solve the world’s most horrendous human rights abuses. However, many students found their peace in red cups and football games. Theatre, Anthropology, and Peace Studies rolled up into one stressed-out, fed-up Butler University Student. (That would be me.) Human rights classes, social activist theatre pieces, and studies abroad in India, South Africa, and Russia helped to develop my keen eye for injustice and a stronger desire to change the world. However, change kept coming up short.

I decided to dedicate a year of service to underprivileged youth on the south side of Chicago. Again, idealistically, I believed only the selfless would work for AmeriCorps and our presence, obviously the sum greater that its parts, would create drastic change in these young lives. Well, my objective Anthropology courses and continual idealistic failures finally started to kick in-I cannot change the world, and neither can anybody else.

Inspired by my co-team leader and her simple brilliancy, I truly understood my White Savior Complex. Co-Team Leader being an African-American woman, she called out my pity feelings and sad thoughts for our students and the societal abuses they endured. The responsibility lay in my hands. And those young students had their own responsibilities. My AmeriCorps team held their responsibility, too. I could not make them better workers or more understanding white people. Similarly, I could not make my students avoid a life of violence. I could, however, control my behavior and reactions to the people and life around me. I could be a friend. An equal. I could not feel sorry for others, believing- innately, implicitly, secretly- I was better somehow.

So, I tried it out some more in other volunteering venues. I mentored refugee youth sisters and tutored adult ESL students. These one-on-one meetings created a world of equality between teacher/student and mentor/mentee not previously understood. I got rid of end goals, better worlds, and concrete successes. I exchanged it for giggly moments, shared meals, and honest conversation. I exchanged changing the world for making friends.

3. One stubborn woman.

Peace Corps! Funny thing about the Peace Corps- most people believe it the essence of world changing. How wrong they are! Any volunteer who believed such madness hated their service.

Luckily, my previous mistakes equipped me with the power to not care about changing the world. For a good six to eight months, in my small, non-electric rural community, I hung out. Chilled. Learned a new language, participated in many dance parties, and met new people-mainly by eating their food, drinking their tea, and taking naps at their houses. Turns out, not changing the world made that stressed-out Butler student float right away.

Through this process, I made a habit of building very strong relationships; one of the strongest was with my host mother, Jeynaba Lo. She took care of me like I was one of her own. In fact, she continues to tell me I am one of her children, and always will be. This woman is tough. I am talking cement, steel, and platinum all combined together tough. She barely reaches five feet, over fifty years old (life expectancy at fifty-nine), and she could grab my fifty-pound pack and haul it on her head through an entire flood plain. She don’t play. Tough.

But, let me be clear: this woman, and this village, suffered daily.  Every month I went to a funeral. Babies died from hunger. Jeynaba suffered immense loss as her brothers and friends passed away too young for many U.S. citizens to fathom. Jeynaba struggled every day to make sure rice filled the lunch AND dinner bowls. Jeynaba ran a household of men, one of whom, her son, would beat his wife if Jeynaba left the house. I’m ranting. But I am talking about real-life problems. Things that should make you feel sorry for people, and then want to change the world.

But I never felt sorry for her. Nope. Not for a second. I worked with her on most projects I executed in the community. We worked in the fields together every week. She taught me how to plant sweet potato, how to harvest hibiscus, and the best way to eat a fresh watermelon-by shoving your face in it, obviously. After eight months or so, I began to teach her some things-improved spacing, composting, and soil amendments. These teachings were simple conversations, an honest exchange of ideas. Months later, I discovered Jeynaba conducted her own test plot of techniques we discussed. She witnessed their success first-hand. She was thrilled-due to her relief that she was not wasting her time on some crazy white girl. That I might have a thing or two in my stringy-haired head.

Life continued. We ate more rice. Worked more fields. Exchanged more ideas. One moment stands out in particular. We were working in her field, and I believe we were arguing over spacing of trees. I had my reasoning, she had hers. She got crazy frustrated, and called me stubborn. I paused, in shock and awe, and called her stubborn right back. She said, “Well, I guess that’s finished.” We laughed so hard as we took the long walk back to our huts. Just two stubborn women trying to make some crops grow and fill those rice bowls.

Jeynaba’s stubbornness paid off. She convinced the entire women’s garden to discontinue the use of chemical fertilizer. She got nasty about it too, doing the “I told you so’s” every time a woman experienced bad crop production. A year and half into my service, I had farmers from other villages coming to ask me questions about their crops, seeking advice. I would give my five to ten minute lecture. Then, Jeynaba would step in and hold an hour-long conversation with the newcomer. I was no longer useful. Doubtful if I ever really was.

Jeynaba owned her knowledge. She owned her change and her community’s change. I owned none of that. I owned Jeynaba’s friendship and deep love and she certainly owns mine. We worked together. I did not solve the rampant hunger in that community. But I know my world, and Jeynaba’s worlds were drastically altered due to our relationship and our mutual stubbornness.

Being a Trusted Mentor

I am back in the United States. I finally have a job that pays me some money to do the work I have been doing for years. Alas, social work in the United States is no Peace Corps. We must meet numbers, and work with too many people with a sincere lack of resources. I do my best to build relationships and to create grounds of equality with my clients and myself. I sought Trusted Mentors to help build that strong connection I uncovered in Senegal, here on my own turf. 

An individual cannot teach another without mutual learning, respect, and partnership. We work to build each other up, not to lower our hands and lift others up. I cannot change the world. But I can be a friend, a loved one who loves others. True mentorship, for me, is mutual. Only then, can we start to mitigate the wrongs we so often see in our world.