Submitted by Gretchen Wing
Special to the Weekly
Looking for a way to make a difference in your community? Need more youthful energy in your life? From 12:30-2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 20, Lopez Island Family Resource Center will host an open house for anyone considering becoming a youth mentor. Snacks will be provided, and a short film produced by mentee Lily Tate will be shown.
The mentor program has operated on Lopez since 1998. Currently, 27 pairs of mentors and mentees meet weekly to play games or sports, cook, hike, play with animals, do crafts, or just hang out. But LIFRC still has a waiting list of kids wanting mentors.
Mentor Colleen Carroll says at first she felt underqualified: “I’m not a parent or an educator and I knew I’d have to quickly deepen my understanding of the mentor role.” But she did just that, with support from Coordinator Patsy Haber and counselor Amy Ray, as well as other mentors. Carroll’s mentee, Sherlin Colón, says she likes the “fun projects” they do together, like sewing. Carroll lists some adventures they’ve shared, like “carving pumpkins in pouring rain, making pesto without a blender (not recommended), attending Islandwood, and admiring Shark Reef from a boat.” Sherlin, Colleen says, is also “passionate about horses, and I’ve witnessed the pure joy of her learning how to ride. She said it best when I asked how it made her feel: ‘Free!’”
Julie Bottjen became a mentor after being struck by the connection a friend shared with a mentee. At first she worried about the time commitment, but soon realized that skipping a week here or there was no big deal for her mentee, Lucia Nicoll: “We just reschedule and go with the flow.” Like Carroll, Bottjen initially wondered if she was up to fulfilling this important role, but now she realizes, “just being present in a child’s life in a consistent, positive way, and specifically listening to the child, is maybe the most important thing I can do.”
Bottjen is now also filling in for another mentor recovering from injuries, and with two mentees, time is challenging: “Since I work full-time, we usually spend weekend afternoons or weekday evenings together.” But each visit leaves her with more energy than she felt before.
“Both my mentees are amazing kids,” Bottjen says. “I love how they look at life… the questions they ask and the things they’re excited or nervous or concerned about. When they are going through challenges I’m so glad to be there to hear them and maybe offer a caring perspective. And of course, the activities we do together (crafts, being out on the trails around Lopez, visiting goats and sheep, cooking and eating) are … some of the best moments in my week.”
Lucia’s mom, Laura Sage, says that “having someone outside of our family really ‘see’ her, someone who appreciates…how special she is” has been “life-changing.”
To any prospective mentors, Carroll notes, “Experts say just one caring adult in a child’s life can help build resilience. What could be more gratifying?” About her own mentoring experience, she adds, “I couldn’t have known my heart would grow a few sizes.” She and Sherlin “enjoy recalling the story of a tenacious kid who would storm into Patsy’s office asking who and when a mentor was coming for her. I’m delighted it was me.”
For more information about the mentor program or the Open House, please contact Patsy Haber at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-468-4117.