Submitted by Ali Walker
“You’ve been able to continue to mentor during the pandemic?”
I’ve heard this question a lot over the past year, and the answer is: Yes.
My name is Ali Walker, and I’m the new Mentor Program Coordinator at the Funhouse Commons. I have been a mentor with the program for almost three years now. Last March, when the pandemic started, I was worried that my mentee wasn’t getting social time outside of her family. I missed connecting with her, so I reached out, and we did some video chats that ended up being quite fun. But I knew seeing each other over the internet was not the same as seeing each other in person.
Her family and I decided we were comfortable with us taking masked walks together outside. For 10 months, we walked together around her neighborhood, catching up on what had happened in the past week. During the summer, we drove to Killebrew Lake, swam and canoed, and even went blackberry picking. It felt like a regular summer, in some ways.
Paul Huber, who has been matched with his mentee for 2.5 years, went down a different path.
“My mentor rules are Zoom calls only. No meeting in person. Mostly we just talk about what’s happening in our lives. On occasion, I’ll order him a model car kit that he’ll assemble on his own. On the next Zoom call, we’ll talk about the process, challenges, what he’s learned,” he said.
Paul meets with his mentee twice a week, and their zoom calls last 30 minutes each.
“My mentee and I crossed a chasm where our relationship opened up into a more casual, trusting and authentic place. It’s pretty great,” he said.
Paul isn’t the only one who has seen a positive change in his relationship with his mentee. Jean Lyle, who’s been matched with her mentee for three years in January, has been oscillating between in-person and virtual get-togethers, taking time to email her mentee and do Barbara Cheese Puffs drop-offs when they can’t see each other in person.
“It felt important to let my mentee know I am here for her no matter what life throws at us,” she says. “(At) first, it was hard to go back on my word of getting together because of changes in the pandemic. We came up with the motto “plan to unplan” and all is good.”
It’s important to let the kids in our community know that they’re not alone, that we’re all learning how to deal with this “new normal.” Being open and honest with our youth tells them it’s okay to feel the way they feel. Mentoring is about showing youth that they have someone that they can rely on and a person to talk to about things that may be uncomfortable bringing up with friends or family. Mentors on Orcas have shown that there are many ways to continue to show up for young people within the constraints of the pandemic.
We are actively seeking mentors and mentees to be a part of the Funhouse Mentor Program. If you’d like to learn more about what it means to be a mentor, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To fill out a mentee or mentor application, you can go to www.funhousecommons.org/mentor/.