Mentors Make a Difference

Most of us remember a special adult when we were growing up who made us feel good about ourselves. Maybe it was a teacher who made a positive comment on an essay we wrote, a coach who never let us give up, or a Girl Scout troop leader who encouraged us when we needed it most. We might not have thought of those adults as mentors, but they helped us in small ways that made a difference in our lives. 

Maya Angelou once said a mentor is “a rainbow in the clouds” who helps us interpret the world. Here in Tidewater, many women are choosing to make a difference in the lives of local girls by becoming mentors. Let’s meet three of them.

JUST BE THERE
Seton Youth Shelters is a local nonprofit, which served 15,000 young people and 80 mentees last year. The organization offers a haven for a diverse group of youth who face all sorts of challenges, varying from domestic abuse and running away to child trafficking and incarcerated parents. Carrie Weiler, 30, first became involved with Seton as a mentor in 2008 when she was still a student at ODU.

“My mentee was going through a lot with her parent being incarcerated,” she said. “We made it a point to do fun things.” Carrie says she learned from her mentee. “She definitely taught me a lot about myself,” she continued. “Kids just want you to be yourself, to just be present with them, and listen.”

Carrie eventually began working in the shelters, and today she directs the Mentoring Children of Prisoners Program, which was established to provide one-on-one positive role models for children ages 4 to 18. Carrie and a colleague are responsible for making mentor-mentee matches. Mentoring relationships can be long-lasting, Carrie explains. In fact, Seton’s longest match has lasted more than nine years. Before Carrie worked at Seton, she worked in a restaurant and then in an office setting. She learned a lot about working with the public, but she missed working with youth.

Carrie lives in Suffolk with her husband and their two dogs. For fun she loves kayaking, trying new foods, spending time with family, and going on adventures with her husband.

Her great aunt, a legally blind college graduate and social worker, inspired Carrie to become a mentor. “She made anything—from grocery shopping to going to bed—fun,” Carrie said. “She was a big influence on my life as far as just understanding the power of hard work and perseverance.”

For women who are considering mentoring, Carrie says to be prepared to get out of your comfort zone. “I was very shy and unsure of myself and always second guessing,” Carrie said about her initial feelings after matching with a 13-year-old. “I knew nothing about what she had been through. I just dove in and got to know her. Getting out of my shell was a really powerful experience. Now I feel very empowered and very comfortable in my own skin.” Carrie says that women do not have to be superwomen to be good mentors. They just have to be there.

COMMUNITY OF SUPPORT
Angela Reddix may seem like a superwoman. Her most recent initiative is a nonprofit organization called Envision Lead Grow, co-led by her 20-year-old daughter, Anyssa Reddix. Its mission is to increase the rate of entrepreneurship and break the cycle of poverty for 1,000 middle-school girls in underserved communities in the U.S. each year. “We are committed to helping them build their future through entrepreneurship by creating a community to support their success,” Angela said.

Envision Lead Grow is currently on a seven-city bus tour, visiting cities like Memphis and Baltimore, where Angela and her team conduct free entrepreneurship camps for groups of middle-school girls, teaching them strategies, skills, and inspirational tips on starting a successful business. At week’s end, the campers conduct a pitchfest, and one girl receives $500 seed money for her venture. Angela makes sure that the impact on the girls is lasting by assigning each one a local mentor. She also provides an ongoing webinar.

One of her first mentee teams in Memphis created a business idea called “New Youth, New Memphis,” which would provide victims of abuse with support. Angela was impressed that even though the girls had been through so much already, they chose to turn their difficult experiences into something positive in order to improve their communities.

“I think it’s so important that we understand that we’re a couple decisions away from being that person that we judge to say that they don’t have it all together,” Angela said. “We all fall, and we all fail.”

Angela’s grandmother was her mentor. While Angela’s single mom finished school, her grandmother raised her. “I can’t think of a better woman,” said Angela, noting that her grandmother was valedictorian of her senior class and had her first child immediately after school. “Her soul was resourceful, humble, and never judgmental. What she gave to her children and her grandchildren is an example of servant leadership.”

Angela thinks about her grandmother every morning and believes that she would be happy to know that Angela is helping others through mentoring young girls and women. Angela gives credit to a community of people who raised her and told her not that she could be someone, but that she would be. 

After graduating from Cox High School, Angela attended James Madison University. She worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative, the project manager of international training programs, and the program manager for a healthcare implementation company in Washington D.C. After fifteen years working in D.C. she moved back to Tidewater and founded ARDX, a federal government contractor in healthcare management and technology, which has over 100 employees in Norfolk and Baltimore. Angela is currently working on her PhD at Oklahoma State University. She and her “very supportive” husband have three “wonderful, witty, smart” children.

“My advice to women is to be kind to yourself,” she said. “The [women] that I’ve had the great opportunity to work with, work for, be friends with—we have a tendency to have unreasonable expectations for ourselves and others. I work really hard to manage my own emotions, and that’s something I had to learn through the years.”

Angela values being involved in both healthcare and mentoring because her passion is helping and impacting others. She believes that her story as a successful entrepreneur can help young women consider their own passions, what “makes their hearts sing,” and use that as a platform for their own and other’s success.

STRENGTH THROUGH FAITH
Delores Perry, director of Girls With Goals Alliance, welcomes me to her Portsmouth office dressed in white slacks and a smart blue jacket. She has a sort of classic beauty seen in early film stars like Dorothy Dandridge or Nita Mae McKinney. She’s also graceful and professional. Immediately after I had requested an interview, she arranged for a mentor, a mentee, and a mentee alumna to also attend. The walls of her attractive office feature photographs and articles about the girls in her organization and their mentors, including local professionals like Ashley Smith, Gabby Douglas, and the playwright Joee Hoxter. With Delores at the helm, it’s obvious why Girls With Goals Alliance is so successful.

It all began in 2006 when Delores’ pastor asked if she and her husband could take a few girls under their wing to motivate them to do well in school. After two years of mentoring in her congregation, Delores decided to contact Virginia Mentoring Partnership for guidelines, policies, procedures, and benchmarks for effective one-to-one mentoring. In November 2009, Delores applied with the State Corporation Commission and was approved in December to launch her own mentoring organization. The first group of girls was matched with their mentors in October 2010. Each year since, GWGA has matched 10-15 mentees, and through participation in local community events, the organization has reached hundreds of youth.

An insurance broker with Perry Benefit Group by trade, Delores says that while GWGA was inspired by her work with the girls at her church, it’s not based on any one religious denomination. Rather, the organization recognizes that with a basis in faith, girls can thrive. Delores sees the mentoring program as her “ministry of serving others’ interests in doing well.” She devotes at least twenty hours per week to GWGA on top of her regular work week.

Delores created the GWGA curriculum, “Passport to Success,” which focuses on academics, leadership, and careers through the lens of STEM and art. Mentees receive help with homework and experience new activities with their mentors. Local female doctors and engineers speak to the girls about how to reach their goals. Once a year GWGA holds a “Literary Day on the Lake,” and the girls discuss plays and books they’ve read. Mentees also do volunteer work in the community and participate and lead curriculum-based group sessions at the GWGA office. 

With such a well-rounded agenda, it’s easy to see how GWGA has shaped mentees like 11-year-old Jahmeka and her older sister, Zahneka, a recent college graduate. Thanks to their GWGA mentors, the girls’ worlds are full of possibility if they work hard. Jahmeka says her heroes are her mother, her sister, her mentor Ms. Denise, Delores Perry, and her math teacher Ms. Wand. When Denise and Delores hear Jahmeka say their names, they smile, knowing what a difference their efforts have made.

Delores says a mentor is “one more cheerleader” in a girl’s corner and welcomes local women to get involved and make a difference.

For more information:
• Seton Youth Shelters seeks donated household items and committed mentors. Visit www.setonyouthshelters.org and click on the What We Do section for details.

• Envision Lead Grow seeks mentors who can commit to 30 minutes per week. They also seek entrepreneurs for the advisory group, volunteers, and board members. A Summer Camp Program will be offered in Norfolk July 31-August 4. Girls in Gr. 5-10 are welcome to apply. Visit www.envisionleadgrow.org for details.

• Girls With Goals Alliance seeks mentors, supporters, volunteers, and donations. Visit www.girlswithgoalsalliance.org.

Lisa Bowditch graduated from Old Dominion University with a Master’s in literature. Currently she teaches middle-school students with disabilities in Newport News. She likes hiking in isolated places and helping out at her family’s business, The Hornsby House Inn in Yorktown.

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