Rebecca’s Mentoring Experience

Rebecca’s Mentoring Experience

Each FOSF scholarship recipient is paired with a volunteer mentor. That mentor helps them navigate their way toward the goal of attaining a college education. Rebecca Leach has been both mentee and mentor. Please read along as she describes her thoughts and experiences with mentoring. Her writing is insightful and heart warming.

Rebecca Leach received her first FOSF scholarship in 2004 and graduated from California State University San Marcos with her BA in Communications in 2008.

Rebecca1_400px_h_web

 

Mentors in My Life

By Rebecca Leach

My perceptions of having a mentor have changed over the years.

I remember when a woman from the Department of Health and Human Services told me I was getting a mentor. She said a mentor is someone who helps you.

I thought to myself, I don’t need any help and I certainly don’t need a new person telling me what to do, and then leaving when the “task” was complete.

Eventually, I would meet my mentor, Karen, when I was a junior in high school. She said she was going to help me get into college. And, she did.

I wasn’t too sure about this person in my life and expected that as soon as she was done helping me write college essays or filling out the financial aid forms, or even helping me file my first tax return, I would never hear from her again.

Boy, was I wrong.

Karen sent, several care packages to my college dorms and emailed or wrote me letters to check in on how I was doing.

One day, I expressed an interest in learning how to make quilt. It was then, I learned, she was a quilter. Every Sunday, I would meet with Karen and she would teach me how to quilt, or sew or cook, or bake, or paint, or repair a broken chair.

But more than anything, Karen always opened her heart to me. I never felt judged or stupid around her.

She was the first woman I had ever met that didn’t yell when she communicated. She was happy and had good relationships with other people. She had a college degree and lived an empowering and independent life.

She was a different from many of the women I knew. She traveled around the world, owned her own home, visited museums and attended the theater. Over time Karen became more than my mentor, she became my friend and a role model.

Building that mentor and mentee relationship took time. A lot of time. At first, I was reluctant to the idea of having a mentor.
Then, something happened. First, I started noticing that other people I knew had mentors. Other non-foster youth friends of mine, who grew up in stable loving homes, often found mentorship in college professors or their work supervisors.

Second, I realized Karen wasn’t my only mentor. I had mentors all around me, in my daily life.

And then, I too became a mentor.

Some observations and relationships I have had, got me thinking about what mentoring really is all about.

Sometimes, I think former foster youth get caught in the idea that we are fundamentally different from everyone else. Seeing other non-foster youth interact and form relationships with people they consider mentors reminded me how just how similar we all are.

Everyone needs guidance, knowledge, connection, and support. Sometimes it seems impossible to get all of those things in one place. Along the way in life, I have learned that mentoring comes in many forms. Perhaps a college professor or supervisor at work will have the knowledge, connections and support to help you grow.

I also realized that the most successful people I knew were emotionally successful people. Those who are happy and content with their lives and are that way because they have at least one caring person in their life whom they consider to be a mentor.

Karen may have been and I still consider her my “formal” mentor, but I have had several persons in my life that I look up to for advice and guidance. Sometimes it was at college with a professor or another student in my class who helped me understand the material or gave me tips for better study habits.

At times it was a supervisor or colleague who helped me develop professionally.

It was the scholarship and mentorship of FOSF. They believe in the support, education and advancement of foster youth.

Recently, it is my friend, Lila, who has shown me the love, guidance and friendship of a mother figure. Lila nurses me when I am injured, sick or heartbroken. She cooks for me and is always encouraging me to eat healthy. She includes me in holiday traditions, just as if I had always been a part of her family.

Many of the people you meet might not consider themselves mentors; yet, you might grow and learn something from each one of them.

When I was asked to mentor a young foster youth, I thought me … be a mentor? How is that possible? I am not perfect. I have a mentor, myself. So, how can I be a mentor?

But as my relationship with my mentee has grown over the last four years, I have redefined what a mentor is. A mentor is someone whom you learn and grow from in small and big ways.

No one is perfect. And the one thing we have in common as mentors is our desire to help empower younger people. Some qualities of a mentor include honesty, consistency, integrity, and open-mindedness. Sometimes they believed in me when I didn’t have the ability or strength to believe in myself. It is this unconditional belief and support that has allowed me to be successful in my personal and professional growth.

Along the way I have been introduced to theater, museums, and National Public Radio. I have developed life skills and had travel opportunities. Other mentors have introduced me to live jazz or other cultural experiences and events. It has fostered my love for the outdoors, traveling and ethic foods.

If I can give my mentee some of the things I have learned, and encourage them to achieve their goals, I would consider myself a successful mentor. I would not be the person I am today, nor will I be the person I will become tomorrow without the love, guidance and support of the many mentors I have been blessed to have in my life. And most of all they have become a part of my chosen family – the family with whom I am able to create new traditions.

If I could talk to myself as 16 year-old, I would tell myself that I am happy to have had mentors in my life. A mentor helps you, supports you, offers an open heart and helps you become a better person.

 

Rebecca Leach received her first FOSF scholarship in 2004 and graduated from California State University San Marcos with her BA in Communications in 2008.

She worked full-time while attending college full-time. Without the support both financially and emotionally from FOSF, Rebecca would not have been able to graduate.

Though generous donations from its benefactors, FOSF was able provide enough financial support that during her senior year she was able quit her job and concentrate on graduating.

FOSF encouraged Rebecca to accomplish both her educational goal of graduating and her personal goal of studying abroad. During that time she developed leadership and public speaking skills.

Rebecca considers the board, supporters, volunteers and other recipients, the family she never had. At her graduation, volunteers and donors celebrated along side her, giving her the same love and encouragement experienced by any one of the other students who graduated that day.

Currently, Rebecca lives in Los Angeles and is the Southern Region Policy Coordinator for a child welfare advocacy organization California Youth Connection. Her new goals are to attend graduate school, receive her Master’s in Public Health and help young women become empowered members of their community.