Tag Archives: Mentoring

“Is the Buddha Coming to My Birthday Party?”

July 2012
July 2012

I could hear the shrieking of five-year-olds in the bouncy fortress from the driveway as I arrived at my goddaughter’s birthday. When they saw me, she and her best friend, Mia, ran to the mesh lookout windows to say hello, clinging to the strings and mushing their noses against the material, still bouncing lightly as they spoke.  Adrianna climbed out to hug me and noticed a necklace I was wearing.

“Who’s that?” she inquired, fingering the bright blue pendant.

“That’s the Buddha,” I responded, figuring this would be sufficient. It didn’t seem like the time to delve into spirituality, even for a wacky 20-somerthing godmother who taught yoga for a living.

“Oh.” Adrianna said, satisfied enough. Until she wasn’t…“Is he coming to my party?”

I wish I could tell you that I said something meaningful, from which my goddaughter then gleaned a childhood twinkle of wisdom. Instead, I ummed & I-don’t-know-ed until another five-year-old shrieked with glee, and her attention was needed elsewhere. She ran away.

Next week, she turns 13, signaling inevitable changes in our bond. I no longer have to pretend to sleep beside her to convince her to nap. She no longer naps, obviously. How many times I’d open my eyes, thinking she’d fallen for my ruse, only to see her tiny face inches from mine, awaiting whatever was next. I still stock her favorite healthy foods before she visits; cherry tomatoes have always been like candy to her— ‘matoes, she used to call them.

I no longer carry her anywhere, but sometimes we link arms through a crowded street or T station. I remember tripping once in the Davis Square station while holding her when she was very small. Fear shot through me so fast that I barely noticed I’d landed squarely on my kneecap, tearing my favorite pair of jeans. My knee bled and began to bruise as we boarded the train, but I didn’t care. I was shaken and grateful that I didn’t drop her, and she didn’t notice how terrified I was.

My friend, Abigail, a mother of two adult children and one teen and a standout high school English teacher, once told me what teenagers most want from their parents: beige couch.

“I’m sorry; I don’t understand. They want new furniture?”

“Beige couch,” she repeated. “Comforting. Supportive. Blends in. Doesn’t stand out.  Always there when needed.”

Being a godparent is nowhere close to the same realm as parenting, but we all know it takes a village, and I’ve been thinking about how I can be most useful to Adrianna, while she leaves childhood and enters adolescence. I keep recalling the women who helped me navigate through the quagmire of junior high and high school—older cousins like Louisa and Celia who laughed so easily; family friends like our childhood nanny, Emma, who was studying to become a lawyer and so smart and the opposite of boy crazy and Linda, who made not wearing the same cool clothes as everyone else seem even cooler; teachers like Mrs. Hess who honed in like a hawk on the fact that I could identify any author by a sentence of his or her work. I was like a nerd sniper of writing styles in my accuracy, but I didn’t rate the highest on standardized tests like the SATs, and I sometimes thought that this meant I couldn’t be a writer. Other teachers sometimes hinted at this.

And, then, my coaches—too many tough, dedicated, big-hearted, hard-pushing, whistle-wielding women to count. Coach Robertson, who first taught me to end even the most frustrating days by thinking of one small thing for which I am grateful. Coach Smurl, who was the first same-sex relationship, pregnant woman, and parent I’d ever witnessed. When DOMA fell last month, I thought of her. I am forever grateful to her for helping to shape my view of family, marriage, and love. Coach Marini, my original swim coach, who simply would not let us use the word can’t. It was like a swear word to her.

I know that I can’t be any of them (in this context, I think Mrs. Marini would be OK with it), nor can I be a beige couch. I can only be myself, to the best of my ability and hope that somehow the joy and satisfaction in that glints in my goddaughter’s direction. I want her to know that she’s strong, bright, kind, and unstoppable. I don’t want her worrying about her weight already. I want her to know the difference between liking Kanye West’s music and seeing him as a role model of any kind other than working hard at a job you love. I want her to know about love—that it is supportive and comfortable, a little like a couch. But it also dazzles, lifts you up, amplifies what’s best about you, is tender with what’s worst, and would never dream of making you smaller or less than you dare to become. Because being yourself will require daring—not the kind that jumps off things but the kind that forgoes the opinion of the crowd, the popular, too often, the mean girls. Now and always.

Adrianna visited last week, her last as a twelve-year-old. We went for a walk through Christian Science Park, past the reflection pool and had dinner on my deck. The arugula salad was her favorite, and she thinks she might like to run track & field next year. These were both of her volition. I swear. We listened to hip-hop after dinner and looked at old photos.  The photo below was one of her favorites, from that birthday party when she turned 5 and asked if the Buddha would be there.

July 2005
July 2005

I didn’t mention that the Buddha is no longer a single living person who comes to parties or eats cake. Instead, he’s a symbol of the best, brightest, and most peaceful core within each of us.

We went to a well-known bakery in my neighborhood, and I told her about its chef and owner, Joanne Chang. For her birthday, I bought her a pair of Nike Frees, her first proper running shoes. It was oppressively hot that day, as we walked toward her mom’s office, but she didn’t want me to carry them for her. She held them close on her lap as we rode the T.

She taught me something, about handstands, too. I do them for yoga, and she does them for gymnastics. Mine are often short-lived if I’m not near a wall for support.

“How do they teach you to stay up without a wall,” I asked?

“Oh, I can’t do it yet, but people say you have to press down really hard, to push your legs up higher… You have to lift yourself up,” she explained.

Days later, during a workout at the gym, I read the latest issue of Vogue on the elliptical machine with an article about Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu member of congress, a woman from Hawaii who served in Iraq, recently sworn in using the Bhagavad Gita, and jumped rope, marveling at how hard it is after you don’t do it for a while. Then, I fluttered in and out of handstands, practicing without an agenda, just having fun  On the last one, I thought of Adrianna’s advice, and I pushed down harder into the ground, until I felt buoyant and steady.

As I hovered longer than usual, I thought of my goddaughter’s face, not the baby face I used to see after fake napping but the young adult face, with its bright, dark eyes sparkling and watching, ready for whatever comes next. I smiled at how high she might soar knowing already how to lift herself up. I walked home by the street with a community garden, which I explained means that each person has their own plot of land, and they can grow whatever they want. She liked this idea, and as we walked ahead, she was quiet, thinking about the possibilities.

Originally published on my website, Om Gal.

A Story of Fatherless Daughters and God’s Grace

Screen Shot 2013-06-30 at 5.05.19 PMPreface:

I haven’t seen my Pop in 20 years or so. I’ve forgiven him for skipping out on his fatherly duties and have accepted that he walks a path that leads him far away from home. His dreams were always much bigger than the reality his small suburban family could provide him. He wanted to change the world. And he did so through education.

He taught English through a bilingual program he developed at Boston English High School. He lectured passionately and positively about the growing Latino movement in Boston. He was even invited by Harvard University to do a lecture series about his work. I remember attending one of his lectures and was completely shocked when a swarm of undergrads rushed the lectern after his presentation, praising him for his work and his passion. His students loved him, his teacher community praised him, and his family thought he was nuts.

Pop walked down the street pinching a joint in one hand and flashing a peace sign in the other. His signature look was a “No Nukes” sweatshirt, overalls and long curly hair wrapped up in a red bandanna. No apologies. Crazy genius, I like to call him. I respect him for achieving some pretty amazing things as a teacher and advocate for the Latin community in Boston, though as a father he pretty much sucked.

Today’s story…

In 2001, my husband MG introduced me to Dorchester’s Mother Caroline Academy and Education Center, a tuition-free inner city middle school for bright girls of limited financial means. He’d been involved with the school’s fund-raising mission for some time and brought me to their annual spring event in Jamaica Plain. I remember being greeted by a bunch of smiling girls in plaid kilts, knee socks and over-sized red blazers with shoulder pads – all singing, chattering, laughing and doing double dutch. Suddenly an nun came out of nowhere and jumped between the ropes. She was really good. A couple of other nuns ran in and did the same. It was absolutely adorable. I laughed out loud. And so the love affair with MCAEC began.

After a few years of attending MCAEC’s Spring Gala, their annual fundraiser, I joined the planning committee, eventually co-chairing the event for 3 years. As my family grew, I’d take my babies along with me to the school for meetings. I would sit and breastfeed at the conference table and hand off my full-bellied baby to a friend when it was my turn to speak. I enjoyed the experiences, but longed for a real connection with the girls for whom I spent so much time raising money. Plus I was knee-deep in diapers and nap schedules. So in 2009, I took off my co-chair hat and signed up to mentor a student.

My girlfriends KF and CP also decided the time was right to reach out to one of these amazing Mother Caroline girls. So the three of us attended a meet and greet with the entire 8th grade class at a swank football party in a private box at Foxboro Stadium overlooking the 50 yard line (provided by a generous donor, of course). After a few awkward conversations, I came upon a charming girl, LR – well, “came upon” might be an unfair way to put it. Honestly, I practically gave CP the Heisman to get to her, interrupting their conversation and shoving myself between them. The reason for my boldness, though unknown to me at the time, would be revealed later.  ;-)

LR and I chatted easily for a long while, sharing some pretty personal things about each other and discovering lots of commonalities between us. She’s an old soul. Thoughtful, inquisitive, interesting, genuine, beautiful. I cornered the head of the mentoring program at the end of the game and gushed to her that I had a great conversation with LR and would love to have her as my mentee. As it turned out, LR liked me, too. So we were matched and spent the next few months getting to know each other.

The program head shared with us that typically mentor/mentee relationships start off slow. And I think that’s true for LR and me. Friendship and trust grows over time and as LR has told me, “We have a lot of years to do that.” So we’ve been sporadically setting up outings and getting to know each other. A couple of weeks ago LR and I were in the car together, talking about high schools. I mentioned that my Pop taught English to bilingual students at Boston English. She said, “My Mom went to Boston English.” Some quick math led us to realize that our parents were there at the same time. And LR’s Mom being Puerto Rican, the likelihood of her knowing my Pop was good. Really good. Really really good.

About 8:30 that night LR called and told me that her Mom had class with my Pop, “Mr. Cronin”, and remembered times staying after school with him when he’d tell her about my family and his days living in Honduras with the Peace Corps. Not only that, but she also spent a couple of years as a counselor at Pop’s summer camp “Campamento Hispano Internacional” in Waltham. I had also spent a fair amount of time at that summer camp as a kid, visiting with Pop. Weeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrd.

I’d just spent the last couple of days blogging about coincidences so I was certainly conscious of the ones happening in my life and was well-studied on synchronicities. And right there, on my family room couch, I was living through a pretty major one. I hung up the phone with LR and chewed on the idea for a minute. Then I proceeded to burst into tears. Fat ones. A full-on contorted-face-heaving-chest ugly cry.

I surveyed my mind to figure out why I was having a fit and realized that I was feeling the loving presence of my Pop for the first time in 20 years. I felt our intangible connection through the Universe. I saw the parallels between us, our mutual desire to make the world a better place, and the genetic gifts he gave me that have allowed me to be where I am today. I understood in that moment that God’s power is great. That there are no coincidences. That LR is my karmic gift, one that I am so happy to accept.

The things that had to happen and the timing of which those things had to occur was perfect. Divine. How on earth could something like this happen without God? God is perfection, organizing events in just the right way, even though to us it looks like total chaos. But it’s not total chaos, it’s divine chaos.

For me there has been a paradigm shift. LR fell away from my Mother Caroline family and neatly settled into my soul family. We are part of each others’ weaving labyrinth of life and always have been. And now we know. Now there’s no question, no surprise that I practically gave my dear friend a black eye to get to her at that football game over a year ago. Everything is written.

I thought about the series of events that had occurred over my lifetime and decided this…

Change (in some cases loss) is inevitable. Embrace it. Everything will be okay. And sometimes, what you think is lost forever is really not lost at all. God will bring it back to you in one form… or another.

How NY Teens Use Yoga to Overcome Domestic Violence

One in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Men make up roughly 15% of domestic violence victims. And about 75% of Americans personally know someone who is or has been the victim of such abuse.

But statistics don’t paint an accurate picture. For many who read this article, domestic violence is a current reality, a past traumatic experience, or witnessed through a friend trapped in a toxic relationship. What you might not know is how young the victims of domestic violence can be. These patterns can begin as early as middle school and high school, in the some of the first relationships of a person’s life. Today’s episode of URBAN YOGIS on The Chopra Well features New York teenagers who have been or are at risk of becoming victims of domestic violence. The students are participants in RAPP (the Relationship Abuse Prevention Program) which falls under the Center Against Domestic Violence. RAPP educates teenagers about  relationship abuse and works to rehabilitate those who have already experienced the effects of violence. As it turns out, one of the techniques employed in this endeavor is yoga.

Teenagers in the RAPP program learn the many faces domestic violence can assume – from jealousy and possessiveness to full-on physical abuse. They also develop the vocabulary to discuss these issues, and the confidence and self-esteem to demand respect in their relationships. As a way of fostering physical and emotional strength, interested students receive weekly yoga lessons from Ashtanga instructor Eddie Stern, which gives them the opportunity to develop stress reduction and self-soothing techniques. And after breathing through difficult sequences and allowing themselves to rest in the final moments in Savasana pose, they can return to their iPods and friends and teenage lives with a growing sense of their own strength and power to overcome.

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The Cost of Kindness

The world is in pain.  We are feeling the effects of crisis on every level; we are suffering.  In this condition, when we feel weak, it’s almost a knee-jerk reaction to fight, to lash out, to argue, accuse, bully, complain, and blame.  But that only creates more suffering.  And so it goes, and has been going, over centuries.  But this doesn’t have to be the human condition.  We have choices.  And by now we really do need to know better, and choose differently.

Sometime around 30 BC Hillel said “If not now, when?”  Now is the time that we need to dig deep within us, to find the courage and make the changes we need to make in order to survive.  Indeed, our very survival is at stake.  Our brothers and sisters are giving years of their lives, if not their very lives, in wars.  Our children are killing themselves to escape being tormented by their peers for what are perceived to be their differences.  The cost of war, economically and personally is horrendous.  The cost of hate, violence, and intolerance is just as bad.  We have to stop the bleeding, and we have to heal.

It doesn’t have to take an act of Congress to make a change.  It only takes an act of kindness, or many little acts of kindness that all add up to getting our priorities straight.  We need to shift from focusing on the material, on the “stuff” in life, and instead focus on people and relationships.  We need to pay attention, to be receptive, to be honest and to show that we care.  Kindness is a virtue that we need to cultivate and value.  It is the salve for our wounds.  It is the medicine for our dis-ease.  We need to invest our time and energy into programs that promote kindness.  This will pay off for us in the long run.  

There are many organizations making a conscious effort to practice and promote kindness in our communities.  One group is Big Brothers Big Sisters. Youth who are identified as “at-risk” are brought into the program and matched with a mentor.  A Public/Private Ventures study shows that children matched with a Big Brother or Big Sister, as compared to their peers, are 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 52% less likely to skip school, and one-third less likely to hit someone.  The financial cost to support a match is just $1200 per year.  Contrast that with the cost to incarcerate a youth in Juvenile Hall at $125,000 per year.  Mentors in this program are volunteers, and most will tell you that as much as they see that the youth are getting out of the program, they feel that the benefits are mutual. 

“Karuna” is a Sanskrit word that means “compassionate action.”  It refers to any action that is taken to diminish the suffering of another.  As we help others, as we extend kindness, we all benefit.  By serving each other we are serving ourselves. “Metta” is a Pali word that means loving-kindness, benevolence, fellowship, goodwill, and friendliness.  Metta is the strong wish for the welfare and happiness of others.  It is an attitude of altruism.

There is no cost to kindness.  A smile, a word of thanks, a good deed, a friendly gesture – there is no cost to these things, and yet the benefits are priceless.  

Ellen DeGeneres is now signing off her show with the statement: “Be kind to one another.”  I heard that and was inspired.  We all have to do our part.  We need to be ever mindful that kindness must be practiced and demonstrated.  To help with this I created “The Kindness Movement.”  It’s a simple commitment of seven days of putting kindness into action.  It costs nothing to join The Kindness Movement.  And it is very likely that as the movement spreads the benefits will be far-reaching.  The Internet holds that power, as it is an illustration of our interconnection.  We are all in this together.  The time to recognize our connection to each other, and to be kind to one another, is at hand.  It all starts right here, right now.  Please join us in The Kindness Movement. Thank you for your kindness.

 

The Cost of Kindness

The world is in pain.  We are feeling the effects of crisis on every level; we are suffering.  In this condition, when we feel weak, it’s almost a knee-jerk reaction to fight, to lash out, to argue, accuse, bully, complain, and blame.  But that only creates more suffering.  And so it goes, and has been going, over centuries.  But this doesn’t have to be the human condition.  We have choices.  And by now we really do need to know better, and choose differently.

Sometime around 30 BC Hillel said “If not now, when?”  Now is the time that we need to dig deep within us, to find the courage and make the changes we need to make in order to survive.  Indeed, our very survival is at stake.  Our brothers and sisters are giving years of their lives, if not their very lives, in wars.  Our children are killing themselves to escape being tormented by their peers for what are perceived to be their differences.  The cost of war, economically and personally is horrendous.  The cost of hate, violence, and intolerance is just as bad.  We have to stop the bleeding, and we have to heal.

It doesn’t have to take an act of Congress to make a change.  It only takes an act of kindness, or many little acts of kindness that all add up to getting our priorities straight.  We need to shift from focusing on the material, on the “stuff” in life, and instead focus on people and relationships.  We need to pay attention, to be receptive, to be honest and to show that we care.  Kindness is a virtue that we need to cultivate and value.  It is the salve for our wounds.  It is the medicine for our dis-ease.  We need to invest our time and energy into programs that promote kindness.  This will pay off for us in the long run. 

There are many organizations making a conscious effort to practice and promote kindness in our communities.  One group is Big Brothers Big Sisters.  Youth who are identified as “at-risk” are brought into the program and matched with a mentor.  A Public/Private Ventures study shows that children matched with a Big Brother or Big Sister, as compared to their peers, are 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 52% less likely to skip school, and one-third less likely to hit someone.  The financial cost to support a match is just $1200 per year.  Contrast that with the cost to incarcerate a youth in Juvenile Hall at $125,000 per year.  Mentors in this program are volunteers, and most will tell you that as much as they see that the youth are getting out of the program, they feel that the benefits are mutual.

“Karuna” is a Sanskrit word that means “compassionate action.”  It refers to any action that is taken to diminish the suffering of another.  As we help others, as we extend kindness, we all benefit.  By serving each other we are serving ourselves. “Metta” is a Pali word that means loving-kindness, benevolence, fellowship, goodwill, and friendliness.  Metta is the strong wish for the welfare and happiness of others.  It is an attitude of altruism.

There is no cost to kindness.  A smile, a word of thanks, a good deed, a friendly gesture – there is no cost to these things, and yet the benefits are priceless.

Ellen DeGeneres is now signing off her show with the statement: “Be kind to one another.”  I heard that and was inspired.  We all have to do our part.  We need to be ever mindful that kindness must be practiced and demonstrated.  To help with this I created “The Kindness Movement.”  It’s a simple commitment of seven days of putting kindness into action.  It costs nothing to join The Kindness Movement.  And it is very likely that as the movement spreads the benefits will be far-reaching.  The Internet holds that power, as it is an illustration of our interconnection.  We are all in this together.  The time to recognize our connection to each other, and to be kind to one another, is at hand.  It all starts right here, right now.  Please join us in The Kindness Movement.  Thank you for your kindness.

Change Your Life, Be a Mentor!

January is National Mentoring Month.  Being a mentor can mean different things to different people.  When I was growing up, my parents were divorced and my mother worked full time.  My dad moved away, and my mom was stressed out and tired when she was home.  Luckily we had Diana.  Diana was our real estate agent when we had to sell the family home and move.  She and my mother became friends, and Diana ended up moving in with us.  It was a blessing in many ways.  It helped my mother pay the bills, gave her someone to talk to, and it gave my sister and brother and me an additional adult in our lives. 

 At the time we thought of Diana as our friend.  She introduced us to tacos, and hot fudge sundaes.  She stayed up with us until midnight on New Year’s Eve.  She made she that our birthdays were celebrated in a grand fashion.  Even after Diana moved out into her own place, she was always there for us, just a phone call away.  We could talk to Diana about anything, and know that she never judged us.  One of my favorite memories is when she took my sister and me to the beach and we made Clam Chowder from scratch and went bike riding.  Diana helped us feel normal, and brought light and joy to our lives when we desperately needed it.

Diana has always been a member of our family, kind of like the hip Aunt where you always look forward to her visit.  And now that I’m involved with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, I can see that Diana was also our mentor.

It is evident how much having a mentor can mean to a child, no matter what circumstances that child is in.  All it takes is one adult to show support, encouragement, or concern to absolutely affect a positive change in how that child views himself and the world.  I knew this going into the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.  What I didn’t know, and soon learned, was how much the experience would change me.

I’m a parent, so I know what it means to love a child.  I know what it means to want the best for this person, to put his needs before your own, and to make this person your priority without hesitation.  I have a child with special needs, so I know about the obstacles, and the heartache.  I thought I was fully prepared and well equipped to handle all of the emotions and challenges that come with mentoring a child.  But every day I learn something new.  And every day my heart is opened more, and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to expand my awareness because this girl is in my life.

What makes Big Brothers Big Sisters unique is that it is a one-on-one mentoring program.  There are local chapters all over the country, so that many different geographical areas are served.  When an adult volunteers to be a mentor, there is an interview, and a background screening process.  Then the “match” part can begin.  The adults, the “Bigs,” and the children, the “Littles,” fill out a questionnaire that reflects their interests, needs, and wants in a mentor relationship.  From there a match specialist pairs up two that are compatible, and a match meeting is set.  At the match meeting, the two meet for the first time, and get to know each other.  The parent, foster parent, or guardian also gets to participate, and if all parties are agreed, the match is made.

The minimum time requirement is four hours a week.  This can be accomplished in one visit or several visits, depending on how the match wants to work it.  There is a lot of flexibility to the program.  Low cost or no cost activities are encouraged.  Time together is what is emphasized, as that is what the kids need more than anything.  Some adults express that they worry that they don’t have enough to give, that they will have a hard time finding interesting things to do each visit to keep the child interested.  But once they spend a few weeks just hanging out, they discover the beauty and simplicity of the relationship itself, and know that time together is the most valuable gift there is. 

Adults who enter the program are required to commit one year to it.  It takes a few weeks, or even months, for the relationship to really gel.  Many times the kids have trouble trusting, and it takes time for them to bond to a new person in their life.  The year goes by quickly, and if at the end of the year, for any reason, the adult needs to dissolve the match, they can.  But most matches last much longer, even a lifetime.  Children ages six through eighteen can be matched with a mentor, and they can stay in the program until they are twenty-one years old.

My Little Sister is sixteen years old now.  I’ve known her for almost a year.  I can’t imagine my life without her.  We have a lot of fun together, going to plays and movies, cooking, and discovering different parts of the city.  But the best times are when we just hang out and talk. 

People come into our lives for a reason.  We learn more from our relationships than we do from anything else.  Diana came into my life when I was a child, and she’s still an important part of my life today.  She’s family to me, and I love her.  And now my Little Sister is an important part of my life, too, and I love her.  I hope that I am helping her as much as Diana helped me, and that she will mentor someone when she has the opportunity.  Relationships are the heartbeat of this world, and Big Brothers Big Sisters brings people together to make the world a better place.

 7 minute introductory video about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ventura County, California:

http://www.youtube.com/coffeytalk#p/a/u/0/QKJjBvRkHOM

 

How To Become A Mentor

Whether you have already embarked on a mentorship or are just mulling over the idea, you’ve come to the right place for a no-nonsense crash course. January happens to be National Mentoring Month, a time in which both the government and nonprofit organizations across the nation are shining the spotlight on the importance of mentoring. Over the several weeks, Americans will be spreading awareness about the impact mentorships can have to increase participation in mentorship programs. So, take a few moments to explore the concept of mentoring and then figure out how you can turn 2010 into the year that you really make a difference in someone’s life!

Step One: Identify your strengths.

What gives you a great sense of purpose? In order to figure out what makes you tick and how you can apply your best skills toward a mentorship, take pen to paper and begin brainstorming. Create a list of all the disciplines you’ve pursued throughout your life that make you feel happy, fulfilled and stimulated. Are you considered an authority in your field? Do you wake up in the morning with a pep in your step knowing that you are pursuing work that fits you perfectly? If you’re nodding your head in agreement at any of the aforementioned questions, then you’ve definitely isolated the valuable skill(s) that you can share with an eager learner. Now go forth and spread the wealth.

Step Two: Be honest with yourself.

This isn’t the type of pursuit that you can try on for size and decide shortly thereafter that it’s not quite right for you. When you’re dealing with the emotional and academic welfare of another human being, undertaking a mentorship is a serious endeavor. You have to determine first and foremost if you can make a relatively long term commitment to aid your mentee, ranging from a few months to a year or more. If you don’t have the time and energy to devote to a mentorship, it’s okay to admit it. Opt instead for less long term volunteer opportunities.

Step Three: Find the right mentoring program for you.

There are a wide range of mentoring programs, so hone in on the right one for you. If you live in Los Angeles, Youth Mentoring Connection is an example of an outstanding local mentoring program. YMC pairs mentors with at-risk youth in L.A. for nine month mentorships. If you aren’t in L.A., look for comparable organizations in your city – use the search tool on www.mentoring.org to find mentoring programs by zip code.

If you want to incorporate a specific component into your mentorship, such as your religion or hobby, find a specific mentorship tailored to your interest.

For a faith-based mentorship, turn to your place of worship or local religious organization for suggestions – they may even run their own mentoring program.

Here are some other suggestions for mentorships that incorporate hobbies or center around specific topics:

• An art based mentoring program.
• A music based mentorship.
• A drug abuse prevention focused mentor program.
• An outdoor sports mentorship.
• A life after sports mentor program.
• A women-focused career development mentorship.

Whatever you’re interest, chances are you can find a mentorship program for you.

Step Three: Train yourself to acquire the top mentoring skills.

Very few of us are instantly perfect mentors. We must be willing to distill the very best that we personally have to offer and augment that with a few strategic characteristics that enable us to become an extraordinary teacher. If you aren’t already a good listener, start paying greater attention to what people around you are communicating and ask them what they think and how they feel. Engage your mentee, always offer direct eye contact, demonstrate sincere interest in what they are sharing, be kind, respectful and non-judgemental of their feelings and overall, become a genuine confidant. Find out what goals they have in life and figure out how your guidance can help them to rise to greater heights of personal achievement. Create timelines to fulfill those goals and demonstrate through your actions that they can count on you to follow through on your promises. Be postive, motivational, humorous, relatable, approachable, down-to-earth and always demonstrate consistent respect. Piece of cake!

Step Four: Establish boundaries and make sure you know what you are NOT.

With so many of the skills previously mentioned, you might be inclined to think that you’re taking on the role of a parent, but you are definitely NOT. Nor are you meant to morph into a makeshift therapist, chaperone, babysitter, personal chauffer, romantic interest or form of extracurricular entertainment. There is an express purpose to your role as mentor. Be very clear regarding what your function is, what your mentee’s expectations are and how you plan to help them reach their goals – and don’t stray from the course. There is certainly a little wiggle room for some fun, but stick to the rules and guidelines put forth by the organization you’re working with.

Step Five: Keep the lines of communication open.

Relationships always evolve over time, which is why it is essential to talk on an ongoing basis with the person you are mentoring. No one is perfect, including the person in the position of bestowing support and information. Encourage your mentee to be honest regarding what they think they are gaining from each session and if any areas are in need of improvement. Adapt your style accordingly. Make sure that you are both accountable to each other so that there is a continual forward-moving trajectory.

Good luck with your mentorship!

Originally posted on Causecast.org.

20 Ways to Make a Difference

When we do what we were made to do, mentoring others and finding volunteer opportunities, we discover that we all have resources to create a personal legacy, using our time, our money, and our ideas. Information on how to give back through charitable donations, involvement in non-profits as a volunteer, and starting one’s own business with the intention of giving something of value back to society. (Charity, environmental, philanthropy, volunteering and mentoring.) Here are 20 ideas to get started…

1. Homeless Shelters and Food Banks
Most people think of helping out during the holidays but homeless shelters and food banks can only survive on the assistance and kindness of others. Cleaning and maintaining the facilities, passing out food, using your business skills to organize their inventory and books are just some of the ways to help out. Local businesses and restaurants help with the donation of food or linens to keep up with the demand.

2. Neighborhood Cleanup
Schools, youth organizations, church groups, businesses, neighborhood associations and others in the community can participate in a community and neighborhood cleanup. Plant trees, eliminate graffiti and water lawns to create a cleaner more peaceful neighborhood. This helps decrease crime by building pride and relationships within the community. It also gives an opportunity for the youth to learn about community service and build character by seeing firsthand the results of destruction of property.

3. Habitat for Humanity
Volunteers help build houses for people in need. Build character and friendships a long the way. You can also learn some great skills in the process. They are international so if you live near a big city, chances are there is one local office near you.

4. Make a Wish
The Make a Wish foundation is nationwide. "It gives and joy to children with life-threatening medical conditions. There are opportunities to volunteer based on skill set. See www.wish.org to learn more.

5. State and City Programs
Many state parks and beaches offer programs, clean up days or places to volunteer your time and talents. Working outdoors with kids or at the nature park are just some of the choices out there.

6. Hospitals
Hospitals offer a lot for interns and volunteering. You can work with kids who need some good cheer or help keep the facilities clean. This can also offer insight into the medical field for those interested in the demanding career. There are hospitals everywhere so this is a great place to start.

7. The Ronald McDonald House
The Ronald McDonald House is a place where families can go if a child is seriously ill. Instead of a hospital the child is treated in a warm home setting. "These programs provide a bridge to accessible health care and allow families more time together, which helps in the healing process." Volunteers can bring activities and fun to the house or help in the clean up and care of the children.

8. Senior Citizens Centers
Senior citizen centers offer volunteer programs to provide friendship and community activities to senior citizens. Friendship and caring is always needed as well as assistance in the health care of residents.

9. Animal Shelters
For all the pet and animal lovers, animal shelters need volunteers to help take care of animals, keep facilities clean and work with the public. Often the amount of public awareness for shelters is the difference between life and death for many animals. Call a local animal shelter for more information.

10. Special Olympics
"The Special Olympics is an international program of year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with mental retardation." The site also describes a wide variety of volunteer activities, including sports training, fund raising, administrative help, competition planning and staffing and many more.

11. Mentoring
"Mentoring is the presence of caring adults offering support, advice, friendship, reinforcement and constructive examples – has proved to be a powerful tool for helping young people fulfills their potential." See mentoring.org for more info and needs near you.

12. Red Cross
The American Red Cross helps people in emergencies whether it’s half a million disaster victims or one sick child who needs blood. Volunteer opportunities exist across the country. Contact your local Red Cross for more information.

13. Salvation Army
The Salvation Army provides social services, rehabilitation centers, disaster services, worship opportunities, character building activities for all ages and character building groups and activities for all ages. Volunteer opportunities exist across the country.

14. Go Green
There are many new programs to aide in the clean up and awareness of many environmental issues. Sometimes this work involves beautiful locations and unique animals. Go from energy efficiency production to beach and river clean-up and then save the dolphins. Environmental activism is heroic and worthwhile.

15. Libraries and Literacy
Many libraries need help re-shelving books, running children’s programs, making books available to the community, and so on. Volunteers can assist library staff and the public during the Summer Reading Program. Contact a local library for volunteer opportunities in your area. 

16. Your Talents
We are all unique and have either natural talent or training that can contribute in some way to many organizations. People skills, technical skills and even artistic skills aide in the awareness and reaction to charities. Most people want to give but need to be inspired or notified to make a difference. They need and call to action and a great speech, poster or website often does the trick.

17. Walk for Charity
Many charities have group events and charity walks. This is a great way to utilize your time and meet other people who take action to make changes in the community. Creating groups is a great way to help out and have a good time.

18. Fundraisers
Organize a special event to bring in donations to important causes. Simple fundraisers include cookie sales, car washes and yard sales. Golf tournaments, poker tournaments and dinner parties are also great ideas to bring attention and needed funding to your cause. The more creative the better.

19. Donate
Find the right charity to put your money into. Find a reputable organization that locates charities that fit your needs. Make sure their books are open that the money is getting to the right people. An organization that we believe in is MTDN.com. They connect users to charities and offer businesses the opportunity to sponsor.

20. Start your own group
Schools and community centers provide a great resource to pull people together for a great cause. What cause is important to you? Your ideas and your time are valuable. Use your talents to make a difference and you’ll be amazed at the changes you can make.
 
View more BetterSelf Blogs at:   http://www.betterself.net/blogs/betterself.php

Getting a Leg Up with Step Up

In this article, Step Up’s Managing Director Angie Grabski shares with us her first-person experience working with Step Up Women’s Network.

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Rosy Garcia, 18, spent most of her time in high school figuring out how to be the first person from her family to go to college.

For her, it’s not as simple as applying to school. Rosy comes from a neighborhood where college isn’t a likely option. Growing up, she encountered gang violence. She commuted to school an hour each way. She took care of her little brother while her parents worked. She’s what people in social work typically call “at risk” or "underserved."

Girls like Rosy — driven and smart — could use a little exposure to the professional world to help them define their career goals. That’s where Step Up comes in.

Step Up is a national nonprofit organization that helps young women become the next generation of community leaders. I’m the Managing Director of the LA office. That’s where I first met Rosy — through our Step Up Young Luminaries Program.

In the Step Up Young Luminaries program, we pair young women in high school with internships so the girls can learn the practical, professional resume-building skills they don’t have the chance to acquire through schoolwork alone. In addition to work experience, the girls learn the soft skills like communication, networking and follow-through that are the cornerstones to success.

For less than a $1,000 investment, 38 companies are reaping the benefits of a stellar teen interns like Rosy and funding fully-paid internships in our Young Luminaries Program. The theory behind it is actually quite simple: when people invest in developing teens into successful, professional and philanthropic adults, they’re ultimately investing in their own livelihood. Without programs like Young Luminaries, teens like Rosy may choose a path that includes dropping out of high school – a high-cost financial issue. For each new high school graduate, the state of California gains $169,000 in additional tax revenue and saves $54,000 each on expenditures related to crime, health and welfare.

Despite the numbers, it wasn’t an easy sell this year to get companies to take on a new paid employee when most are going through layoffs and budget cuts. Fortunately, it’s not the statistics that motivated our members to help secure these internships: It’s the girls. Our amazing girls.

Nobody knows that better than Step Up member Philline Parlan. Parlan is a litigation associate at Jackson Lewis LLP law firm. She hosted Rosy as an intern last year for what ended up being a life-changing experience for them both.

While Parlan was glad to have the administrative help of an intern and happy she could mentor a Step Up teen, she wasn’t expecting to actually learn so much herself.

"Practicing law for several years can wear on any attorney’s soul… the grind, the pace, the billable hours, these are all things that a majority of attorneys deal with," Parlan said. "But through the eyes of a barely-17 year old, I realized I worked at a great place full of generous attorneys and staff willing to take the time to teach her career skills."

Parlan found herself stealing away moments throughout the summer to inspire Rosy about the possibilities of life after high school.

"I hung out with [Rosy] and explored her passion for art by attending a field trip with her and her AP Art History Class," Parlan shared with me in an email. "So much fun."

She also assisted Rosy with aspects of her college transition, helping Rosy with her personal statement for college applications and showing her how to asses the financial implications of college.

Ultimately, Parlan helped Rosy see that mistakes were going to be a part of the process and that while many obstacles will cross her path, she can and will overcome them.

"I realized that if the teenager in me could see me now, the anxiety of the work to come would melt away, because in the end, everything worked out."

For Rosy, every day at her internship was an adventure. Remember the first time you interacted with a copy machine? Parlan made sure to give Rosy a well-rounded experience, allowing her to work with different women in various departments throughout the law firm. Rosy also got to meet all the non-lawyer professionals who help keep the firm running. The biggest lesson Rosy took away from her experience? The importance of being a good communicator.

In preparation for her internship, Step Up provided workshops on the importance of networking, appropriate office attire, goal-setting and how to identify personal strengths. Through Step Up, Rosy has grown into a confident, college-ready woman who’s found a potential career path in government to fuel her passion for helping people.

Rosy graduated high school this year, and Parlan was there to applaud her achievement. This fall, Rosy will start classes at Mills College, an all-girls school she visited and fell in love with during Step Up’s 2008 Bay Area College Tour.

By leveraging the resources and passion of our members, Step Up is able to help teens on their path to graduating high school, getting into college and preparing for a successful professional life.

Photo of Rosy Garcia courtesy Ellice Schwartz. Photo of Philline Parlan and Rosy Garcia courtesy Step Up.

By Angie Grabski of Tonic.  For more latest news on good news, visit Tonic.com

10 Ways to Find Purpose in the Job You Already Have Right Now

Finding purpose in your career does not necessarily mean you have to drop your current employment to build orphanages in Cambodia or become a community organizer à la Barack Obama. And considering the rising unemployment rates that won’t go back down anytime soon, most of us do not have the time or the financial resources to make a career change right this moment.

So what can we do? We may not necessarily be in the purpose-driven career of our dreams, but that should not stop us from finding purpose in our current jobs starting today. If everything happens in this universe for a reason and right now the universe is telling you to stick at your current gig, here are 10 action steps to bring more purpose to the job that you already have.

1. Be Thankful. Think the universe is depriving you of the job of your dreams? Think again. Nearly 1 in every 10 people in the United States are unemployed. If you have a job right now, the universe is generously providing you with the opportunity to earn income, and provide for yourself and your family. Let your current job encourage you to ruminate on what a blessing it is to have a job right now when so many countless people are desperate for anything, no matter how overqualified and underpaid they are. Let your current job bring a greater sense of gratitude to your life, which will spread outward to the people close to you.

2. Develop More Empathy for Others. Even if your job is the most solitary of all jobs, chances are some parts of it involve human interaction–whether in person, on the telephone, or by e-mail. If your current job is making you miserable due to the people you have to interact with–whether it comes in the form of a mean boss, annoying customer or back-stabbing co-worker–use this opportunity to expand your sense of empathy. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. See what you can do to grow from interacting with this person, instead of having it ruin your day. Consider it a test of compassion that’ll prepare you for the next job of your dreams.

3. Exercise your Sense of Discipline. No dream or life purpose can be achieved without rockstar discipline. So if you’re stuck at the job that is not your most ideal career, use this opportunity to practice discipline so that no matter what opportunity comes along your way in the future, you know you will execute it with maximum efficiency and productivity. Wake up early. Start work on time. Limit your dawdling on online social networks and e-mails. Take initiative on projects that have to be done that no one else is volunteering for. No matter what job you have now, growing your iron discipline will propel you to any place your heart desires.

4. Make the People Around you More Green. No matter what job you are in, you can use your current employment as the means to make everyone around you more green. Such as: printing on both sides of the paper instead of one, carpooling with your co-workers, recycling discarded paper, using public transportation, or in the case of Intent, participating in a volunteer beach clean-up! Even if you’re not working for Greenpeace or tackling green-building initiatives in the community, your humble job can still save the planet, one recycled printer paper sheet at a time.

5. Bring More Joy to Others. You can actually listen with non-judgment when you have to handle a notoriously difficult client. Or you can bring extra care and compassion to your customers with a genuine smile that will lift their busy and stressful day. Take a page from the enlightened masters who radiate joy no matter where they are or what unpleasant situation they are in. No matter what your present job title description says, you can do it, too.

6. Mentor Someone. The career knowledge you have would probably immensely help someone out who is just starting out in your field. Why not give someone your time, knowledge and compassion to help them grow personally and professionally? Consider becoming someone’s business mentor and show them the ropes so that they don’t make the same mistakes that you did. MicroMentor is an example of an online resource that helps people looking for business mentors and people wanting to become mentors connect with each other.

7. Give Back Any Excess Material. Maybe you work in a publication company, and you have a lot of magazines and used books that a doctor’s office or local library can use. Maybe the old printer or desk your office is getting rid of will really help a struggling non-profit in your community. Maybe your restaurant has a lot of excess oil that would be great for people who drive cars that run on veggie oil. Whatever field you are in, it is possible you have an excess of something that you no longer need that others would greatly benefit from.

8. Donate a Small Percentage of Your Income. So even if you immensely dislike your job, at least you’re generating income, right? And if you’re generating income, you can probably give up a cup of coffee or two, or opt out from a few restaurant dinners with friends so you can give some of your spending money to those who are in far greater need than you. If you enter your annual income in the Global Rich List, you just might be shocked how your supposedly measly hourly wage can actually be a matter of life or death for a poor family on the other side of the world. For a list of charities to donate money to, go to JustGive.org.

9. Have Your Company Support a Community Cause. No matter what line of work you are in, it is possible that your company or employer can sponsor, support or host some kind of event that benefits the community. It can be as simple as encouraging all your co-workers to go to a local blood drive, or giving local organizations a place on the office wall to post their flyers and posters. It can be as big as hosting a big community fundraising event. For starters, you can make a company team page on Kiva.org, where individuals and groups can give micro-loans to business owners in developing countries. (See Intent Team’s Kiva page here!) 

10. Practice Being in the Now. Being in the present ‘now’ instead of the regrettable past or the supposedly better future is something that all of us can practice, especially when so many jobs are notorious for living in the future–in terms of the next great business deal, or the next economic boom that will bring greater profit. So even if it’s Monday morning and you’re already itching for it to be Friday, take a few deep breathes and focus on your current project. Become more aware of your desire for the time to already be five o’ clock instead of whatever the time is right now, right this moment. Other co-workers might take note of how serene you are and begin practicing mindfulness as well. Conscious living will help everyone on this planet no matter where you are on the corporate ladder.

 

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