Friday, April 18, 2014

Mentor Musings, with Second Helpings


Thanks to Janet (not real name) for sharing her story of mentoring a Second Helpings’ mentee.

When I first began mentoring, I didn’t quite know how to support my mentee. She seemed to have all the help she required. She was doing well in school, and staying busy with her family and friends. I didn’t see or hear from her much because of her busy life. I thought she was on the right track. Did she really need me?? I was lucky to be matched with such a creative, smart, caring woman, but I was having problems reaching out to her.  She did want to have a mentor in her life; I just needed to give her enough time to trust me and share her problems and struggles.

When we met during the first few months of our relationship, we had easy conversation about our day-to-day lives. She talked quite a bit about her past, explaining why she was in her current situation. I tried to not question her too much; I genuinely enjoyed listening to her story (she has a great sense of humor too).  I was learning about her complex life a little bit at a time, which was fine with me. I wanted to be a part of her support system, yet I still questioned exactly how I was going to do that.

Each time we got together (usually at a coffee shop with baked goods!), she shared something new about herself. I was beginning to see how I may “fit in” with her busy life. I had an “aha” moment when I realized how I could have a positive influence on her life. I’m someone who offers her a different perspective; she listens to my opinions and ideas. I realize she may be sharing some thoughts and concerns mainly with me; I’m a “safe” person for her to bounce ideas off of. I also give her a reason to “get out” and explore. Really, I feel I’m there to listen more than anything. 

I’m thankful that I’m here to support her when the time is right. I am here to encourage her creative mind and listen to her ideas. I hear about struggles she may not share with others. I learn more about myself by being her mentor. We have a place in each other’s lives.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Reflections from a New Mentor


If I had been asked to mentor six months ago, I would have definitely been interested but probably would have declined, thinking it wouldn’t realistically fit into my busy schedule.    Between work and school I feel I barely have time for my important “me” time. However, I know that when I find something I truly want to do, I manage to find the time.  Yes, I want to help others and make this world a better place.  But building a relationship is not a task to draw a line through once accomplished.  I hadn’t anticipated how much mentoring would impact me.

 

In January, I started a one semester internship at Trusted Mentors as part of earning my masters in social work.  After a couple months connecting mentors and mentees, I knew I wanted to become involved more than professionally.  About a month ago I expressed my interest in becoming a volunteer mentor.  I had a general understanding of what that involved.  As Trusted Mentors works with individuals who are at risk of homelessness, I imagined applying mentoring in this context.

 

I admit, the idea of mentoring made me assess my knowledge of homelessness, and frankly, I found myself feeling a little insecure.  Though I feel stable and accomplished and therefore able to be a role model--what did I know about overcoming homelessness or poverty?  It is one thing to experience the stress of possible poverty, but quite another to actually experience it. Before my anxiety increased too much, I was quickly calmed by the Trusted Mentors staff who reassured me that the most important part of mentoring is building a healthy relationship.

 

What does a healthy relationship look like-- stable, trusting, accepting, supportive.  My mentee described a mentor as “someone I can be open and honest with, without any judgment.”  And I could help her reach her goals through “support… and be[ing] nice.”  I love my mentee’s answers and they gave me confidence that I can provide the support she needs.  

 

Having experienced prejudice and discrimination myself, I can relate to not wanting to be judged.  Mentoring started me thinking about what we each need, and supportive, positive relationships are a need I think we often don’t think about.  How often do we ask ourselves, “What healthy relationships do I have in my life?”  My appreciation for healthy relationships has greatly increased as I interact with individuals who have little or no support.  

 

As an intern, I am genuinely giddy to hear mentees benefiting from the mentoring process. I have not been matched very long, but I have thoroughly enjoyed learning more about my mentee.  I see strengths and beautiful qualities in my mentee, which she doesn’t yet realize.  I am witnessing how a healthy relationship can help her view herself and her future more positively.  I feel myself learning and growing in bounds as my perspective broadens. I am deeply touched by her trust and vulnerability when she confides in me.  I look forward to our friendship growing over the following year and longer.


If you enjoy volunteering, I highly recommend giving mentoring a chance!

 

Marea Kinney is a Graduate Student Intern with Trusted Mentors through the IUPUI School of Social Work.

 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Serving the Homeless along with the 100,000 Homes Initiative


Recently, the 100,000 Homes Initiative was adopted by Indianapolis and Trusted Mentors quickly jumped on board as a key partner. Our city is a proud participant in this national effort to house our most vulnerable homeless neighbors.

Every Tuesday, we attend a housing committee meeting at the Horizon House with multiple 1000,000  Homes partnering agencies serving the homeless population in our city. Every week, we hear the names and stories of chronically homeless men and women who now are being given the opportunity to move into an apartment of their own.  What a great feeling it is to be a part of this national movement to move people out of homelessness!

Although our city has experienced success moving many of our homeless from streets and shelters into housing, we are seeing that the transition for many is proving to be a difficult one.  The skills needed to help an individual survive on the streets are different from the skills needed to remain housed and/or employed. Developing new skills, such as time management, budgeting and being a good neighbor takes practice. These newly housed men and women need guidance and support as they deal with spiritual, emotional and social issues to include isolation and low self esteem.

The local 100,000 Homes Initiative views Trusted Mentors as a vital partner in combating homelessness because mentors help their mentees develop these new skills. Through a mentoring relationship, mentors help their formerly homeless mentees build social capital by helping them to form connections and to become integrated back into the community.

Take B.W.’s story of a “typical” mentee referral for Trusted Mentors. B.W. was referred to us by the Horizon Houses’ Pedigo Clinic. B.W. is a 53 year-old chronically homeless male with both mental and physical illness.  When my intern and I sat down and spoke with him for an hour last week, we received an ear full about where B.W. sees his future going once he’s housed. B.W. has multiple interests to include a love for animals and a skill set in home rehab. B.W.’s primary goal is to give back to his local community as a volunteer and he sees a mentor as someone who can help him make these connections.

B.W. shared that depression and isolation have been a real issue for him since he lost his parents in 2011. He’s never been married and doesn’t have any children. He says that he doesn’t make friends easily, especially since he’s been in recovery and has stopped hanging around friends who use. B.W. is looking forward to developing a friendship with a mentor to improve his quality of life.

Since joining our local 100,000 homes initiative, Trusted Mentors has seen our homeless prevention mentee referrals almost double. Trusted Mentors and 100,000 homes believe that mentoring matters. If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer mentor, please email me at slandis@trustedmentors.org and visit our website at www.trustedmentors.org. For more info on the national 100,000 Homes effort, visit these links.  at www.cbsnews.com/60-minutes/  and http://www.cbsnews.com/news/anderson-cooper-how-i-see-homeless-people-now/.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Difference a Mentor Makes


I recently checked in with a friend of mine whose uncle was released from prison about a year ago up in Michigan. She told me that he was on a positive track as he’d managed to secure both housing and work and was setting long term goals. Just four days before he was planning to take a bus out to California to live with family and to pursue higher education, he reoffended and was rearrested. His hopes for the future are again deferred.

I asked about her uncle’s support system.  She said he had no one. After spending twenty years in prison, he had no friends, and very little family to help him stay on track, stay focused, and stay encouraged. She said, “He could have used a mentor.”

Contrast my friend’s story with a couple of our Trusted Mentors’ mentees. Both mentees are re-entering our community from the prison system. Both men have high hopes for their futures. Both men recognize the benefits of having a mentor.

Joe is starting his life anew here in Indianapolis. He’s not originally from here; he came to a city where he knew very few people and had next to no support. Joe states that a benefit of having a mentor has been having a friend in a “foreign land” to help navigate a new city. “Aaron has helped me find an apartment, given me advice on money management and helped me while I was looking for a job.”

Joe shares that the best part of having a mentor is “knowing there is someone that I can always talk to about anything. Aaron doesn’t judge me and he listens to what I have to say. Most of all, he is very encouraging and always has a positive attitude.” Joe knows that he’s not alone as he surmounts the many challenges that lie ahead.  He says that Aaron’s positive attitude is contagious and has aided in boosting his self esteem, even as he hits road bumps. 

At age 49, Lavert too is transitioning into a new phase of his life. His mentor, Andy, has helped him move into a stressful workforce and has assisted with housing and other goals. Similar to Joe, Lavert states that having a mentor is a positive for him as “it helps me when I have someone to share what’s on my mind…no matter what it is.”

It’s common for mentees coming out of homelessness or re-entering society after incarceration to become overwhelmed and discouraged. The reality of re-entry presents with a myriad of obstacles including: institutionalization, lack of education/ job training, lack of housing and stigmatization. The most poignant thing that Lavert shared with me about his mentor Andy is this: “Best of all, he (Andy) gives me hope even when I can’t see it.” Hope out of hopelessness—I hear this time and time again from our mentees and the sentiment is felt as these “ex-felons” open themselves up to restorative relationships with a Trusted Mentor.  

Who knows if the difference between the successes of our mentees versus the uncle’s demise was having a mentor? We do know that having a mentor makes a difference.  Trusted Mentors reports that 89 percent of our re-entry mentees remain out of the prison system once they’ve been matched with a mentor. If you’re interested in mentoring for 2014, please visit our website at www.trustedmentors.org and click volunteer!   

Friday, November 22, 2013

Shedding Light on Indy Homeless Camps


I walked down a set of steps and across a worn red carpet that led to the homes of strangers.  As I approached, I saw welcoming knick-knacks and decorations that created the picture of a happy home.  I was greeted by an older woman who had a big smile and a certain warmth about her that made me feel right at home.  Hidden among trees and brush next to the White River, I was standing in the middle of the woods. 

A few weeks ago I set out on an afternoon outreach mission with Bob Charlock from Food 4 Souls Ministry.  His daily agenda consists mostly of visiting homeless camps in Indy and offering a hand to those in need.  The idea is not to stop by and say "Hey, come with me, let's go to a shelter  and find you a job, and do all the things I think you need to do to get out of here!"  I've learned that it just doesn't work that way.  The purpose is to meet people where they are and allow them to set their own goals while being supportive in the process. 

It's hard to imagine how or why men and women end up living under bridges or in homeless camps.  Job loss (number one cause of homelessness), mental illness, chronic illness, and addictions are all components of homelessness.   I'm sure everyone can think of people in their lives who are not homeless living with one or more of these conditions.  What is the difference? Support.

During this experience I learned something really important:  our neighbors living in homeless camps or under a bridge are a community.  When I connected with the lady in the woods who had such a bright and kind smile, she warmed up to me immediately.  We chatted about normal things like her love of her pet, the weather, and how her job was going.  She really wasn't all that different from me-- she just doesn't have a roof over her head.  Homeless camps  have created a network of support for those living in them that keeps them from becoming isolated.  Humans need to have contact with other humans, and isolation can be detrimental--downright damaging-- to our well-being.   

The faces of homelessness aren't always what they seem.  I met former executives, people with college degrees, talent, skills, and faith.  Some are in recovery, and the only barrier between them and housing is employment.  It was important for me to learn and share that people facing homelessness aren't that different from those of us fortunate enough to have housing.  I know I would not be where I am today without all of the support I have received over the years from my family and friends.  Where would you be?

Leila Mortazavi is a social work intern with Trusted Mentors. Bob Charlock works with Food4Souls,  one of our partnering agencies. For more info or to become a mentor for the formerly homeless or incarcerated, check out our website at www.trustedmentors.org.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Just "lucky to be here"


I’m just “lucky to be here” indicated James as he sat beside me in a local restaurant. “I’m the last person in the world who thought I’d be homeless.”

Looking at James, you’d understand his disbelief. He’s a well dressed, handsome, middle aged, well educated man whose life just didn’t pan out as he expected. But it didn’t happen overnight. His life came crashing down gradually over a period of seven very unlucky years. The hardship began with a painful divorce from his wife that resulted in several consecutive losses—his daily life with his beloved children, his home, his middle class life with all of its familiar comforts.

The next domino fell as James was laid off from his job of 20 years within the aviation industry where he worked as a Senior Tech Specialist and Project Manager for Boeing. Then the economy tanked, which made it difficult for him to transition to another job in the midst of a glutted job market in California.

Upon learning of his father and uncle’s failing health, James made a decision to move to Indiana to be with them during their final years. He’d already suffered the loss of his mother several years earlier.  At this point, James had roughly $20 in his pocket, along with the contents of his car. He lived in his car and stayed with family until both his uncle and father passed away. James was able to find various odd jobs to keep his head above water until his own health took a dramatic downturn.

“My heart stopped all the time.” James reports that he’d walk short distances and feel fatigued. Finally, he ended up in the hospital after passing out cold in the middle of the street one day. His doctors wouldn’t let him leave the hospital as they were concerned that he may have a “death experience”. After enduring an endless battery of tests, James was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure and was gifted with a combination pacemaker/ defibrillator in April of 2013.

This fall, James was hired on as the House Manager for Gennesaret Men’s Recovery Home, a place that allows homeless men to recover from various surgeries and physical ailments. James is appreciative of Gennesaret and most enjoys listening to the other men coming into the home. “I know what they’re talking about because I was there--they let down their shield and open up to me-- because they know I can relate.”

I asked James about lessons learned from these life-changing experiences.  “I didn’t appreciate things—more importantly, I didn’t appreciate people, relationships. I didn’t even appreciate myself.” James looked into Dean’s eyes, his Trusted Mentor, as he shared this lesson. It’s evident that their relationship is one that both men appreciate. It’s one that’s reciprocal as Dean shares that he too had a life altering injury and has therefore reordered his priorities in life. He too has set aside more time for relationships, including the one that he shares with James.

Dean is a member of Grace Church and serves every Sunday with their Circle City Relief ministry downtown, feeding the hungry and homeless. Dean connected with Trusted Mentors because he wanted to do more—he wanted to walk with someone through the tough times. It turns out that Dean and James have helped each other heal in a relationship of reciprocal support.

 

Friday, September 27, 2013

The gift of presence


As I sat in the back of our neighborhood yogurt shop and listened intently to Dean and James, I realized that one of the greatest gifts that a mentor offers is simply this: presence.

In a society where time is a hot commodity, mentors leverage this asset in a powerful way. As I watched this mentor pair interact, it was evident that Dean has been a consistent presence for his mentee James during his time of transition out of homelessness. James spoke of a time when several days had gone by when he didn’t hear from his Trusted Mentor. James had been struggling personally, and Dean had been consistently messaging him or dropping a quick call. Because James had gotten used to Dean’s consistent support, he felt the void when it was absent. It turns out that Dean had his own personal emergency come up—thankfully, James was able to help him through it. Tables were turned and James was present for his mentor.

I often remind our volunteers that being a mentor is indeed more about “being” present than “doing” xyz for their mentees. A mentor is consistent, supportive, encouraging, uplifting, trusting, hopeful. A mentor is truly many thing--but presence is paramount.

 I recently heard from another woman who just began mentoring a young adult aging out of foster care who turns 22 next month and therefore loses financial subsidy.  I asked a more seasoned Trusted Mentor what his advice to her would be.  Andrew offered several practical ways she could help her mentee around issues such as financial responsibility.  And he ended his advice with these words: “Be there”.

In the book Bowling Alone, Robert D. Putnam shows how we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, etc. Putnam warns that our stock of social capital -- the very fabric of our connections with each other-- has plummeted, impoverishing our lives and communities.

Putnam draws on evidence including nearly 500,000 interviews over the last quarter century to show that we know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often. Putnam shows how changes in work, family structure, age, suburban life, television, computers, and other factors have contributed to this decline. In my work with the homeless and at-risk community, I see the evidence of social isolation—loneliness, depression, hopelessness, despair. We are made for connection and something is lost in our human experience without these significant relationships.

 I frequently refer to Bowling Alone and Putnam’s findings when I share the benefits of the mentoring relationship—both for the mentor and the mentee. Mentoring is a way to reconnect relationally. Mentoring is as easy as giving the gift of your presence to another. Thanks to all of our Trusted Mentors—thanks, Dean, Vanessa and Andrew, for being there.  If you’re interested in connecting as a Trusted Mentor, please checkout our website at www.trustedmentors.org or email info@trustedmentors.org.