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.