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Hello - I Am Your Mentor!

Karen Kitchel discusses the power of mentorship

Twelve years ago, I became the mentor of twin five-year-old girls whose Mom came from Sudan. Among the many fun “firsts” I got to share with them was their first carousel ride, first visit to a library, first time to go fishing, and first time they heard the word “college.” My daughter was a freshman at a local university, and one Saturday when they had an open house, I decided it would be fun to take the girls to campus. On the way there, they asked “What is college?” What a treat it was for me, as a mentor, to introduce them to the concept.

During the next eight years, we enjoyed baking a lot of cookies and spending Sunday afternoons together. While the girls were both soft-spoken and usually very quiet, I figured they were enjoying the relationship because they never turned down an opportunity to get together. Because their Mom was raising five kids in a small apartment on an entry-level salary, I knew their exposure to many things I take for granted was very limited.

I believe mentoring isn’t about having someone tell you what a great person you are or what a difference you are making. Rather it’s an opportunity to experience first-hand what another life might be like, and perhaps to share the joy of just being together with people you otherwise might never meet. I was suddenly sad the day I heard my beautiful mentees and their family were moving to Alaska and had no forwarding information.

Then came one of the happiest days of my life five years later when I opened the door to find these two beautiful girls had come to visit me. I could not have been more thrilled when they said they remembered the Saturday we went to visit college, and then proceeded to tell me how they were both applying to various colleges next year — one to study criminal justice and the other pre-med. I would never assume that our one little college visit at age five had a direct impact on their decisions, but one of the great benefits of being a mentor is that you never know the impact you might have. And while their visit was short before returning to Alaska, their heartfelt words about how they want to stay connected, made me ever so happy to have been their mentor.

Because I felt my mentoring experience was so enriching for me, I decided recently to become a mentor to a woman who is serving a seven-year prison term. Without knowing what life is like for those who live in correctional facilities, I thought this would present a new opportunity to learn about another slice of life and simply offer friendship to someone who perhaps has little. I learned that Jane (not her real name) has never had anyone visit her since she entered the prison more than a year ago, so I got to be her first visitor. Seems it is not uncommon for family and friends often to want to separate themselves from someone who committed a crime. Jane’s greatest wish is to see her son, and she seems to be doing everything she possibly can to make that happen. Meanwhile, I can offer a smile, a hug, and a friendly word. Sometimes that’s the best thing you can do as a mentor.

For me, the experience of being a mentor has been a unique blessing. I’ve had the chance to meet some people and experience a part of their life situation which I never would have been able to do. The reward perhaps is a richer life for all and memories that last a lifetime.

About the author:
Karen Kitchel is a Community Volunteer who is passionate about helping those who are homeless or disadvantaged. Previously she served as President of Cheerful Givers, a nonprofit organization, and Director of BI University at BI Worldwide. She can be reached at

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