“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill
It’s National Mentoring Month. Here’s a heartfelt piece from a mentor among us, Artrella Cohn, Director of Secondary Sites for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.
It was almost ten years ago. I was an eager, determined, yet green, Kalamazoo Communities In Schools Foundation (KCISF) social work intern at Milwood Elementary School. I was a fresh face, a newbie amongst more seasoned professionals (mostly from the field of Education). I knew my life’s purpose was to positively impact the lives of young people. How exactly I would fulfill this purpose was still unclear to me. But it was time to get started. It was time to meet my first student-client.
Then we met. A quiet, impressionable 9 year old in the fourth grade. According to her teacher and others in the building, this young lady could benefit from one-on-one guidance. I was not convinced I could make a difference, but I can appreciate a challenge.
The relationship grew quickly and my fourth grade student-client became more like the younger sister that I never had, but sometimes longed for. We met multiple times a week and worked on coping skills, managing her feelings, self-image, and goal setting. I shared my experience as a college student and plans to apply to grad schools. She was as interested in my world as I was in hers. Neither of which were picture perfect. But the two of us together were truly a perfect match.
Grad school and a blossoming career away from Kalamazoo would keep us physically apart over six years. But, I would often speak with my friends in Kalamazoo and get an update and send messages to her from me through them. I would never forget the young lady who represented my first opportunity to fulfill my life’s purpose.
As fate would have it, I decided to move back to Kalamazoo in late 2009 and take a Senior Site Coordinator position with the organization that gave me my first real experience as a future Social Worker, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (yes, there was a slight name change or two since I had been gone). My site would be Kalamazoo Central High School, a building of just under 1700 students.
Many months into my new experience at Kalamazoo Central, I found myself rushing from my office, trying to leave the building for a meeting without getting intercepted by a teacher, staff or student. Thankfully, I made it to the door.
But WAIT… Am I seeing who I think I am seeing?
Ricki: Ms. Trella?!?!
Me: Oh my goodness!!! I cannot believe my eyes right now.
We give one another a tight hug and laugh about how I have been in the building for months and our paths have not (to our knowledge) crossed. I promised to follow up with her the next day.
It is now three years later and it feels like a lifetime. As a mentor, I have been able to have difficult conversations, help to prepare her for prom, help with college applications, chat about her desires to go into the Navy, lose my voice screaming at her high school graduation as she finishes with honors, watch and record (with tears of joy) as she graduates from Navy Boot Camp, be on the other end of the call when she shares that she is being stationed in California, have breakfast with her the morning she headed to the airport for California and have lunch together and spend quality time with her during her visit back home for the holidays.
It is apparent to me that this young lady looked at her circumstances over the years as stepping stones to reaching her full potential. While CIS and other people have played a role in encouraging her and supporting her in many ways, she has done much of the work on her own. She is the optimal example of a resilient child.
I know that she has played an integral part and helped to shape the path of my career in the field of Social Work. I am now the Director of Secondary Sites for CIS of Kalamazoo and am therefore able to work with many more students who have difficult and often similar challenges that she has faced. But, I will admit, this one student has truly been the glimmer of hope that will forever positively impact my life’s purpose. I am thankful for having her in my life more than she will probably ever know.
My plea to the community at large, but especially the young adults and college students, is to consider committing your time to mentoring a young person. It will likely do more for you than you’d expect.
Tags: Artrella Cohn, CIS, Communities In Schools, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo Central High School, Kalamazoo Public Schools, mentoring, National Mentoring Month, Naval Station Great Lakes, Ricki Harris