Author: Amanda Martin

The Power and Impact of Mentoring

By Russell White

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” -Jack Welch, chairman and CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001.

My name is Russell White and I graduated from Drake in May of 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics and International Relations. I currently serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA member with the Iowa Mentoring Partnership (IMP) at Volunteer Iowa. My work is related either to capacity building and sustainability for mentoring programs, or I am engaging in outreach via social media, email and phone. I am tasked with helping give technical assistance to mentoring programs and helping them create the structure their programs need to be successful in serving Iowa’s youth. Often, I get the pleasure of listening to personal stories from mentors, mentees and parents/guardians about the amazing impact mentoring has on their lives. Nothing is more fulfilling than knowing that you are helping to improve the lives of children across an entire state; knowing that you truly are making a difference it people’s lives. But, I didn’t end up at the IMP randomly, it was quite deliberate. For you see, I am passionate about youth development and mentoring. Why? Well, I myself am a mentor. I mentor a young boy named Aiden who attends Monroe Elementary School, which is not that far from Drake University’s campus.

I began mentoring Aiden in the fall semester of 2017 of my senior year at Drake. At the time, Kerry King of Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) put together a new service opportunity between Drake FSL and Monroe Elementary’s afterschool program. When I first heard of this opportunity I was excited by it, mostly because I enjoy volunteering with kids; it is honestly a blast. The Spring before, a group of FSL students attended Monroe Elementary for several hours and spent time with the kids. We read them books, talked with them and even played a few games with them. Needless to say, it was perhaps one of the best ways to volunteer. So, upon hearing about this new opportunity to spend time at Monroe Elementary once a week for an hour with their afterschool program it seemed like a no-brainer! A handful of other Drake students and I signed on to be volunteers in the fall of 2017.

Upon my first visit to Monroe I was taken outside with the kids to the playground. That is when I met Yolanda Shields, the director of the afterschool program, and, as I would learn, a terrific individual to be around. After meeting her and explaining I was a Drake student here to volunteer, she quickly referred me to a student of hers that was writing a book and needed help. Since I was a college student, both her and the student thought I could lend a little bit of help. That student was Aiden. Our first day together Aiden and I sat at the base of the jungle gym and spent the entire time working on his story. At first, this might seem only like a cute activity that he and I did together on our first day. However, prior to sitting down with Aiden I was informed that Aiden has ADHD. So, sitting down for a long period of time and focusing on one particular thing doesn’t exactly come naturally to him. At the same time, he sometimes gets so hyperactive that he bounces off the walls in his classroom and causes both disruption and trouble. Sitting down with Aiden, it became clear to me that he was not at all a bad kid. He is similar to most kids his age: has a hard time with sharing, loves to play video games, has a silly sense of humor and just loves to play around. He and I hit it off on my first visit to Monroe and I had informally become his mentor.

I would go back to see Aiden most weeks; I did my best to try every week, but sometimes I could only do every other week. But every time I would walk through the door and he saw me a big smile would grow on his face. Those moments always felt rewarding. He and I would almost do the same thing whenever I came to visit him. We would go out into the hallway, sit down on the floor, I pull out my phone and we begin to watch video game clips on YouTube. At the time, Aiden’s video game obsession was a 2D dungeon/adventure/mining scroller called Terraria. Luckily, I knew of the game prior to him showing me and that excited him that I knew what he was talking about. He and I began to bond over video games and we would show each other videos and just watch them every time I visited. But, I would also get him to play some board games with me, like Candyland, Battleship and even Chess. Surprisingly a 10-year-old kid likes to play Chess.

At the same time though, I would talk with Aiden about how things are at home. How school and class was going. Just anything that was going on in his life, and he would open up more and more to me with every visit. I would also try to work with him on how he interacts with other students; teaching him to be more kind and more willing to share with his classmates. By the end of my senior year, I could already see a difference in his behavior. To see and witness the change in him was such a rewarding feeling. But, my time with Aiden also had an affect on me. It made me more responsible and considerate of others. Whenever you’re a mentor, you have to be reliable and consistent with your mentee. That consistency and reliability translated to other aspects of my life. It also just made me happier, to be honest. Being around Aiden and simply playing games, watching video games and hanging out had a real positive impact on my own mental health. It also inspired me to keep mentoring and to help spread the culture of mentoring. Because of my time with Aiden, I have become passionate about the mentoring field which is a considerable reason for why I chose to serve with the Iowa Mentoring Partnership. I still mentor Aiden to this day. In fact, I intend to see him tomorrow after work and bring in his favorite snack: Takis.

People underestimate the power and impact of mentoring. The impact of a mentoring relationship doesn’t just affect the mentee, but it affects the mentor and the parents/guardians too! In a mentoring relationship, you are helping your mentee realize THEIR potential, while the mentee is helping you realize YOUR OWN potential and worth as well. You build each other up and it is a beautiful dynamic to be a part of. You become a friend, a big brother/sister, a role model. You’re just there for them. It is as simple as that. Someone they can count on and know that no matter what, they (you) will be there. It is one of the most rewarding feelings you could ever receive in life. All the while, I only spent one hour a week with him. That is only four hours a month. Think about all of the hours you spend in a month doing practically nothing. So, let me ask you this: What will you do with your four hours? Nothing? Or change a kid’s life for the better?

Homelessness in America

By Amy Knudsen, Professor of “Homelessness in America”,  SCSS 076

In putting together my class, Homelessness in America, I knew that the best way to fully understand this complicated and multi-layered problem was to provide an opportunity for service learning.

This was accomplished by connecting with community organizations that spoke to the class on a variety of topics, conducting volunteer work at local shelters and designing and implementing a class project that would educate the Drake community on the issue.

Continual reflection was utilized by journaling, speaker reflection papers and reflecting on the group work and project. In addition, I asked students to reflect on what citizenship means, do they believe that volunteering is a necessary part of community and the role of the government in responding to the issue.

We had eight speakers from local organizations speak at the class and students volunteered at Central Iowa Shelter and Services and Iowa Homeless Youth Center’s (IHYC) Outreach Center. Students cleaned, sorted donations and made tie bags for residents.

For the group project students wanted to educate the Drake community on youth homelessness and we partnered with IHYC for the project. Another class on campus, LEAD 100, was also doing a similar project so we combined our efforts. The event, held on April 18th provided a homeless simulation for students and students made tie blankets for the youth. In addition, donations of personal hygiene products were collected. Approximately 25 students attended, 17 blankets were made and several boxes of donations collected.

The success of the class was seen in the student’s reflections:

“..this class and this project have taught me so much about homelessness that I could not have gotten anywhere else. The tours and speakers helped me conceptualize what we learned in class, and this event further helped that. I hope that our project will open the eyes of other students across campus, and maybe even start to break down the stigma a lot of us have. Even if we help just one homeless person, or change one person’s mind, it’s worth it.”

“I learned a lot through this experience, in many way I did not really expect. Going into this class, I expected to learn about homelessness but I was not aware that we would able to do things that actually help out the homeless. Through the event, I learned all of the work that goes behind planning a large donation event like this and just how difficult it can be to gather support for the issue you are trying to address. That is something that shelters and nonprofits face every day and I was extremely unaware of that. The simulation at the event also helped enforce the ideas that I had learned in class. I became aware of just how unpredictable homelessness is and how you can be faced with large obstacles at every turn that completely turn your world upside down.”

“Through this semester, I feel like I have learned a lot about myself. I’m sure that all freshman say that as they leave their first year of school but I feel that this class has really helped with my own internal growth. I learned about my passion for volunteering. I volunteered when I had the time in high school but seeing all this injustice brought to light around me has made me want to step up and do more. Volunteering makes a big difference in so many people’s lives and I’m sad that I haven’t done more of it until now. I have already set up a monthly volunteering spot at a local homelessness shelter back home and at the local food shelf so I’m eager to get home and help out even more. I have also learned how to better work in a group setting. I worked with groups of people I didn’t know a lot this semester and it really helped me grow a lot as a person.”

“The most important thing that I have learned throughout this experience is the crisis of youth homelessness and how it can affect education. As someone who grew up in a stable household I never considered how hard it would be to have to move schools all the time because you didn’t have a stable home. The effect of these moves on a person’s education was something that I had not considered and had never really thought about. I also never considered how hard it would be to access personal hygiene as a homeless youth. Most schools have showers in the locker rooms, but if a person is constantly switching schools or even no longer attending school this does not help them. Along with that most people donate clothing of food items and not pads and tampons or other more expensive and less socially glorified items that are necessary for women to have and use.”

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” And I think this was true this semester.-