Once a month, dozens of adults shuffle into the cafeteria of Atlas Prep High School in southern Colorado Springs. We scan the crowd of high school students until we find our match and sit down at the cafeteria tables. Over pizza, we talk about our goals, our fears and our hopes.
We’re part of a program new to this high school—Mentor 2.0 through Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Colorado.
This program matches college-educated adults with a young person to guide them through the tumultuous years of high school.
The goal is to help students graduate high school successfully and enter either college or the workforce.
As I talked to my mentee about what she was hoping to get from the program she said, “My parents work a lot and don’t have time to help me or really talk about school. I’m excited to have someone to support me.”
The challenges are many.
Like many of the others at her school, my mentee has a much more difficult home life than I had growing up. Her parents are both immigrants. They work seven days a week as janitors, including most nights, in order to provide for their family. They often can’t make the rent payments, so the family is uprooted and moved from apartment to apartment, leaving little in the way of stability for the children. At home is a multi-generational and extended family squeezed into a tiny apartment—leaving little time or space for my mentee to focus on her studies. Not that she could anyway—when she is out of school, she is tasked with babysitting her younger siblings while her parents work.
Many young people in her situation tend to fall into this same cycle of poverty. Knowing their family needs extra help, and having little hope they will achieve something different, they drop out of school and begin to work low-paying, menial labor.
That’s where this program steps in.
Mentor 2.0 matches professionals with high school students who share similar interests and passions.
They are a stable support system to the student, someone who can help them set goals for their future, set stepping stones toward those goals, and also offer the encouragement they need to keep trying even when things get difficult.
The truth about poverty.
A group of researchers once asked a group of women who lived in the hills of Rwanda a question. The women lived on a few quarters a day, scratching their food from the earth, with little to show at the end of each day. They lacked running water, adequate food and education. You could argue that they were experts on what it means to live in poverty. When researchers asked them what poverty means, they answered:
Poverty is an empty heart
- It’s not knowing your abilities or strengths
- It’s not being able to make progress
- It’s isolation
- Poverty is no hope or belief in yourself
None of these Rwandan women mentioned a lack of money.
When most of us think of poverty, we think in terms of things—a lack of food, clothes and Christmas presents. So it’s not surprising that our response to poverty is often expressed through things—toy drives, food banks and clothing donations. All of these things can have a good place as we respond to the needs of those around us.
But while meeting immediate needs, these responses don’t get down to the heart of the impact poverty has on a soul—the spiritual, social and emotional impact. They don’t counter the lessons that the Rwandan women had learned from poverty—that they couldn’t make progress. That they didn’t have strengths or abilities. That they were alone.
The life of the girl I mentor might look very different on the outside from those women in Rwanda. But she faces those same messages that poverty sends—that progress is elusive, and so effort is futile.
What it takes to counter these messages is a stable, encouraging support, someone to whisper a different way and walk alongside them each step of the journey.
This is where you come in.
Mentor 2.0 is looking for mentors for the 2017 – 2018 school year.
Their goal is to have a mentor for each member of the freshman class. What an amazing opportunity for our community—to love our neighbors not just with our words but also in our actions. Mentors commit to stand by their mentee for four years of high school, attending monthly meetings with them, as well as interacting with them through weekly online assignments.
I don’t what the outcome of the next four years will be with the girl I mentor. I don’t know what fruit will grow from the seeds I’m planting now. But I know that God has called me to love my neighbor, and I know He cares deeply for each of His children and has a unique purpose for them.
Written by Amber, a member of Pulpit Rock