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?