My mentor, myself: How newspaper clippings, a movie about space camp and a lady I met in kindergarten made me.

My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. C., asked her students to draw a picture of something that made them happiest. In a sea of flowers and bunnies and fairy princesses and stick figures to resemble parents, I drew a rocket ship. I was going to be an astronaut.

Was I sure, wondered Mrs. C. Was I really sure that this blue and white oval representing a space shuttle and those yellow X’s representing stars and the two red circles (Mars twinned?) in the background made me happiest? Yes, I told her. I was sure. I scanned my classmates’ handiwork: I was absolutely sure deep space represented the penultimate happiness. After all, I could take my pet turtle, my best friend, and my parents with me! They were there in the picture. “You just can’t see them because they’ve already boarded the spacecraft!”

As Mrs. C. nodded, understanding perfectly, one of my classmates – first name Anthony, last name redacted to protect the guilty – wondered out loud where I got the crazy idea I should set my sights on space anyway. “Girls can’t be astronauts!” he cackled. Actually, advised Mrs. C., girls could. Girls are. So, she said, it was perfectly reasonable for me to aspire to the space program.

Over the next few months, until I joined the ranks of the first grade, Mrs. C. made sure I knew it. She clipped newspaper articles. She told me about this place called “Space Camp” where kids get to go on simulated missions. She introduced me (and my very patient parents) to the movie of the same name, which I (and they) saw at least three dozen times by the time I turned six.

Our relationship was simple.

Our relationship was profound.

Mrs. C. was, for all intents and purposes, one of my earliest mentors. At the time, I figured she was looking out for my career; now I know she was looking out for me. And while so many math problems and the Challenger disaster changed my mind about schlepping off to space – because, come to think of it, I wanted to be a teacher! –  I never questioned what girls could be. (Instead, I questioned that anybody should question! I was a feminist before I knew there was a word for me. Mrs. C. is probably at least in part to thank for that.)

So it is that I really believe mentors matter. So it is that I think every last one of us needs his or her own.  So it is that someone reading along is, or knows someone who, by virtue of being themselves (and having the wherewithal to keep pace with the latest news out of NASA) could do a lot of justice by another human being.

It’s National Mentoring Month. So, in my professional capacity – never made it to space, made it to law school, became a “non-profiteer!” – I challenge you to remember a somebody (or more than one somebody) who showed you they cared.  Then resolve to make a difference this New Year. Pick up the phone. Shoot me an e-mail. Ask me how you can help enroll a family member in one of our programs. Ask me what it takes to be a volunteer-mentor to a child in need or a friend to an adult with disabilities. Make a donation to JBBBS in the name of your favorite mentor. Join the conversation on social media (#NMMatJBBBS) right now! And learn more about National Mentoring Month here.

– Joni Kusminsky, J.D., Manager of Recruitment and Communications

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