From Ziplining to Graduation: A Mentor’s Perspective on the Girls’ Mentoring Program

By Stephanie Hemmert, Girls’ Mentor 
Ice skating is way better with friends!
A little over five years ago, I walked into an Alexandria City Volunteer Information Session knowing I wanted to help in some way and do something, but I wasn’t sure what.  I had participated in some literacy tutoring a few years before that, and was looking to get back to volunteering in some way.  During that information session, I learned about Community Lodgings and I found out that they were just starting the girls’ mentoring program, and I jumped at the chance to be a part of it. 
At the time, I signed up for a one year commitment and had no idea I would still be mentoring over five years later.  I am sure glad I do, though.  There are countless reasons– but if I had to narrow it down, here are my top ten.
1.  The organization.  Everything Community Lodgings does ties to its mission of lifting families from homelessness and instability to independence and self-sufficiency.  The organization has a proven track record of assisting Alexandria families for the past 30 years.  They are effective and have a definite, positive impact on the families they serve.
2. Purpose.  Aaron Hurst, author of The Purpose Economy, writes about how people want to be connected to a ‘purpose’ in what they do.  Sometimes people receive this fulfillment in their jobs, sometimes in other ways. Serving as a volunteer is a wonderful example. 

3. The Staff.  I love working with these folks.  They are caring and committed to those they serve.

Is it too late now to say “SORRY”?!
4. Fellow Mentors. It’s a privilege to be connected with my fellow mentors.  They are all creative, successful, amazing, caring individuals, who are committed to the girls.  We have developed an awesome team environment where we support each other on this mentoring journey.  Some of us periodically travel for work and of course sometimes life throws us other personal challenges now and then where we may have to miss a night of mentoring.  If one of us has to miss a session the rest of the mentors pick up and carry on to still provide consistency for the girls.
5. Periodic Check-ins with the Girls.  We started this a few years ago and it’s been fun to experience the evolution.  In the beginning of a session, we invite each girl to share a high and a low of something going on in her life since the last time we met.  It’s been a way to gain insight into each of their lives and for the group to build trust among all of our members, mentors and mentees.
6.  Learning Things in Order to Lead.  We rotate among the mentors who leads our mentoring sessions.  Our sessions tend to fall into broad categories of health and fitness, community service, life skills, educational, fundraising, crafts/creativity, and team building. I’ve more than once had to brush up on my own knowledge of something before a session, for example when we led a night of learning about strong women in history.  I think the saying is true about ‘not really learning something until you have the opportunity to teach it’!
Woof! So nice to make new friends at Community Lodgings’ mentoring sessions! 

7. Sharing Interests. It’s been fun to share interests of mine with the girls and fellow mentors and to gain insight into other mentors’ interests and learn about their talents.  For example, one of my favorite things to do is dance and we’ve had the opportunity to take the girls to a number of dance fitness classes.  (We even led a Zumba class outside on the grass once!)  Other mentors have shared interests and talents such as hiking, stepping, cooking, baking, and boot camp exercising!

8. Getting Pushed out of My Comfort Zone.  In our quest for providing new experiences for the girls, I also end up getting to do new things I likely never would have done otherwise.  Ziplining is one example!  The girls work hard in raising funds to be able to do a big ticket fun event each year.  Last year they chose to spend their hard-earned money on a zipline adventure.  It never ceases to amaze me how fearless these girls are!
9. Learning Teenage Lingo.  Or attempting to, anyway.  We have some funny conversations sometimes with the girls teaching us mentors what some words mean.  If it hadn’t been for the girls, I would have never been introduced to the word “bae.”  🙂
And, of course, 10……. The Girls.  I love seeing the girls grow in their lives, explore, and accomplish things they set out to do.  Two of our mentees are now in college.  One of the most rewarding and encouraging days was the day I had the privilege of seeing both of them graduate high school.  I am looking forward to our other mentees’ graduation days as well. There are always more things to come!

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