As Mentoring Month draws to a close, we’re excited for today’s guest post from Mentoring Today! Since 2005, Mentoring Today has served DC youth both before and after they are released from incarceration to support their successful reintegration into their families and community. Advocates and mentors from the Washington College of Law help youth with critical issues such as education, employment, and housing as they enter adulthood. Through these comprehensive, client-centered services, Mentoring Today strives to improve the juvenile justice system and empowers our young people to recognize their dreams and realize their aspirations.
About the Author: Sasha Garcon is a third year law student at American University’s Washington College of Law. Sasha is currently interning with Mentoring Today and hopes to pursue a career in juvenile defense.
A Mentor, An Advocate, And All That Is In Between
by Sasha Garcon
I have been a mentor in the past. And as a law student, I am developing skills to become a better advocate. But rarely have these two roles merged, until I started working with Mentoring Today. Mentoring Today is a DC-based organization that serves youth both before and after they are released from incarceration to support their successful reintegration into their families and community. Mentoring Today, through a partnership with Students United, a student organization at American University Washington College of Law, sends mentors to meet weekly with incarcerated youth at New Beginnings Youth Development Center in Laurel, Maryland. Once the youth are released, mentors continue working with the youth in the community by maintaining a mentoring relationship and by helping with critical issues such as education, employment, and housing.
“What is a mentor?” I asked my mentee on the first day we met. He explained to me that he had had a mentor before and that this individual gave him advice on life and staying out of trouble. I thought about this a little more and thought about how I wanted to define my role and my relationship with him. I knew that I was not there to tell him what to do and what not to do. My role, as I saw it, was to be a support to my mentee — to help him define goals and to help him in accomplishing those goals. While I wanted to provide emotional support and advice on how my mentee could grow as an individual, I also wanted to make sure that I fought for things that my mentee wanted or needed to grow as an individual. I wanted to be more than a mentor; I wanted to also be his advocate.
The idea of being both a mentor and an advocate may seem foreign but they work quite well together. I could see change in our relationship the first time I shifted from my role as a mentor to being an advocate for my mentee. My mentee had what is called a “Youth Family Team Meeting” (YFTM) meeting scheduled. At this meeting, New Beginnings staff members, service providers, and family members came together to prepare for my mentee’s release and to discuss what services needed to be set in place once he was in the community. In preparation for the meeting, I discussed with my mentee what to expect. We talked about his goals, what he hoped to accomplish in the meeting, and any issues that he wanted to raise. I reassured him that I would also be there at the meeting on his behalf to help make sure his goals were met and that he accomplished what he wanted to accomplish. As I said this, he stopped and looked at me with a look that I can only describe as pure shock. “What? You didn’t expect me to come?” I asked. His answer, “No.”
After this meeting, I could see how my role as a mentor-advocate shaped and defined my relationship with my mentee. It was encouraging to see that he was not only comfortable sharing his goals with me but also wanted to include me in his pursuit of accomplishing those goals. I had the ability to not only advocate on his behalf, but also to help him learn to advocate for himself. One cannot truly advocate for someone, if they do not teach them to advocate for themselves. It is the assurance that I will not only advocate for him as best I can, but that I will also provide him with the confidence to advocate for his own needs that I believe will truly make a difference in my mentee’s life.