My eyes are being opened... are yours?
I am leaving tonight to attend a 5 day training in Providence RI. Spirit In Action is offering me a chance to build my skills as a leader working toward the goal of creating a deep and lasting social change for those who work as community leaders. I never thought I was one... but I AM a community leader.
I am a chairperson for a mutual Mentoring program. We work with the community at large to build mentoring relationships with Head Start families. This is both a joy and a challenge. Because how do you really bridge a huge divide across people of different classes where the hope is that those who struggle will be inspired by those who don't? It's a toughie... I tell you, it's tough to figure out how to break barriers and stereo-types to inspire trust and growth.
The thing is, for me- the struggle has been in that... I AM a community leader... and I'm also a Head Start parent.
I'll just come right out and say it. Our family is strong, our family is happy, our family is inspired and encouraged to grow and blossom and reach goals, find our path to goodness and give back to others. Yet, our family depends on the aide of organizations such as Head Start, Mass Health, WIC, Fuel Assistance just to survive. Wow. That was hard to put into writing. But why should I be ashamed? I contribute to society! I know I'm a good person! I follow my dreams! I have the support of my friends and family! I guess what I'm saying is.... I'm lucky. Which is not always the case with people in similar situations. Which is what brings me to this.
Last Sunday, I stood up at the pulpit of my church with our interim minister, Carie Johnsen and spoke about what mentoring meant to me. THIS is why I am who I am. THIS is why I can't possibly let the financial situation that our family finds ourself in get to the core of my soul. I'm not "better" than those who are in the same boat... but my own life is better because of those who have served as guides.
I know that there are few people who read this blog. But if you're reading this... this is a message; a plea for you to see what you can do to guide another through your experience.
I would love to hear your story, your story of someone who helped you bridge from a vision that you had for your life, to the living reality it became thanks to their guiding hand.
If you've got an extra couple minutes, here is what mentoring did for me. Here is my piece that I read at the sermon on Sunday:
When I first became a mother, suddenly it occurred to me that I had no earthly idea of what I was doing. I knew that I loved my child, I knew that I could provide the basics but I had no idea how to shape my vision as a parent until I met my first mentor.
I had these “ideas” about parenting... about nursing, cloth diapering, co-sleeping, and baby wearing. I had a circle of friends and family who were strongly opposed to my style and thought they were doing a service to give me advice about how much harm I was going to cause by sleeping with my baby, or spoiling him by holding him all the time, or saying “that’s never going to last” about my desire to cloth diaper and forget the bit about nursing... that was the most unsupported decision I made. I didn’t have anyone who I felt understood my style. I knew that I wanted to take my parenting values further but didn’t know where to begin.
And then I met a group of moms at a family center in Plymouth and that’s where my journey of finding mentors began. Those women gently guided me in finding my own path by setting an example through theirs. They were always open to sharing, but only did so when I asked for it. They encouraged me to stand my ground, and not to change my way just because someone didn’t agree. And most importantly- they showed me how to be an advocate for myself as a mother.
That was eight years ago. Not only has that really helped shape one of the most important areas of my life, motherhood but it showed me how vital it was to have a guiding hand, a cheerleader, an encourager. And that’s what mentoring does. See, for me- what I needed was encouragement. I needed someone there to say, “hey- you know that Hope you have for yourself? Did you know that not only can you do it... but that I can be there to cheer you on as you try?” Having a multitude of mentors in my life has meant that I have a fully supportive “staff” on my “dream team”. There have been mentors who have walked me through career changes, pointing out the natural gifts that I had to offer an employer, instead of the lack of college degree that I was fretting about. I have had mentors who fed my creative soul, instructing me how to use this desire to create, and spread it out like a quilt over my life. That opened up so much in me, to have someone show me that a little thread could mean more than a seam, it could mean I could possibly take it and weave it into anything I wanted. One mentor that I have now has been advising me, when we have the time to get together, on this project I have for my life. To be a business owner. I have a very clear vision of what I want my business to be... but the path to getting from here to there is a little tricky. That mentor has experience, she has been a business owner before, she has run a business that’s entire purpose has been to help nourish people physically which is what I hope to do with mine only in a soul nourishing way. She has connections, resources, stories, memories of her time as a business owner and yes, she could take what I hold in my hand and do it for me... but she doesn’t. She takes what I have in my hand and adds to it... sprinkling my handful with her handful and patting me on my back when I stir my own thoughts into the pot. She knows that this is MY dream, my journey... and I know that she can’t do it for me. I know that she can hold my hand as I do it for myself though.
I never knew that I had all this in me. I never knew that I was creative, that I was caring and giving and that I had purpose to my life. I really didn’t. I grew up with my basic needs taken care of but it was never taken a step further, like I was determined to do with my own child... to become MORE than a home and a hot meal. I had to find my own way and it wasn’t until I met my first mentor that I knew that I didn’t have to do it on my own.
Are you a mentor? If you’ve ever wondered “well, what would I even have to offer someone? I can’t be a mentor!” , then I challenge you to this: the next time someone comes to you asking for your opinion or advice... no matter how small you might think it is, instead of giving them the answer and sending them on their way, why not give them the answer and then ask “and how can I help you?”