Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Take two

In what’s suddenly becoming a trend, I wanted to revisit a recent post again this week. This one refers back to June 1, when we reported on a new match for Je’Mia. That post came out on the day she and her new committed partner, Melanie, had planned their very first one-to-one meeting. And now, as Paul Harvey might say, the rest of the story….

That morning, Melanie found herself behind schedule as she was making final preparations to leave town for a week-long trip. Her attempts to reach Je’Mia via text to let her know they wouldn’t be able to spend very much time together that day didn’t get through, and when Melanie arrived to convey the news in person, Je’Mia was disappointed.

Her mom was frustrated. Je’Mia and her brother, Jerrod, who was also recently paired in a committed partnership, are blessed with a mom who is very much invested in her children’s success and happiness. She is exemplary among our current group of parents and guardians in her desire to be in tune with what’s going on in her kids’ mentoring relationships.

When she hosted Je’Mia’s match meeting a few weeks ago, she was proactive in asking questions of Melanie, and seemed to have a genuine interest in getting to know her. She is protective of her daughter, especially in light of Je’Mia’s experience the first time she was matched with a mentor.

Fast-forward a week. Melanie returned from her trip, and I spoke with her and Je’Mia’s mom as they went about arranging another mentoring activity. Neither was completely satisfied with the way the first attempt had turned out, and both were eager for another go at it.

Melanie and Je’Mia went on an outing that Wednesday—lunch and a movie at Atlantic Station. Melanie called afterward to report that it went well. The two had gotten to talk, and she’d decided to take a piece of advice offered in the New Mentor Workshop by committing to Je’Mia to meet the same day each week for a while. They’ll be an every-Wednesday duo going forward.

So it appears that this match is—once again—off to a good start. Je’Mia and Melanie have gone out a couple of Wednesdays in a row. Melanie sees the great potential in her committed partner and enjoys their time together. Je’Mia’s mom is pleased with the consistent support Melanie’s offering her daughter. And Je’Mia is flashing her trademark smile at the mere mention of her mentor’s name.

Je’Mia and Melanie checked out a collection of bones from long-extinct dinosaurs during their trip to the Fernbank Museum last Wednesday. The commitment to communicating and handling changes of plans that got them past their initial bump in the road will go a long way toward keeping their relationship alive and kicking for a long time to come.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Simeon and me

You might recall Simeon from the May 3 post to this blog. I generally like to keep things moving forward rather than revisiting past stories, but I left some business unfinished back there.

You see, there’s a detail I left out of the narrative of Simeon’s and my trip to the ballpark. It was the question he asked me during the drive home. I had told him we were still looking for a committed partner for him, and he said, “Mr. Matt, why couldn’t you be my mentor?”

I can’t recall what answer I gave him that night. I do recall revisiting his question in my mind every single day until the end of the school year, when Simeon’s mom called me to ask if we could make haste getting him paired up with someone. She had concerns about the influences around him and hoped he could get some additional support during the unstructured months of summer.

I told Simeon’s mom, Claudine, I would make it a priority to find Simeon’s match within a week. Then I looked in the mirror and found him.

The list of objections that had played in my head before that conversation went something like this: “I have two small kids of my own who need a lot of attention,” “My wife works, too, and it’s already tricky to coordinate our schedules,” “I need to maintain a degree of separation from the program to allow me to make objective decisions about it,” and “Am I willing to make a sustained commitment to meet weekly with one particular teen? I have a lot on my plate, and we don’t exactly live next door to one another.”

I’m not proud of my objection list. After all, I’m usually the one who, along with Dottie, affirms prospective mentors in their belief that they can do this, that they’re in for one of life’s truly rewarding experiences if they’ll push past the objections that keep them from getting involved and then make good on their commitment. It’s funny how a small dose of perspective—that there is a real and great need—can melt away the objections.

So how are things with Simeon and me so far? Well, we spent our first two sessions throwing things at each other. It’s not what it sounds like, though—he eked out a win when we tossed a pickup game of cornhole at Atlantic Station, then we played catch at a local ballfield and he showed off his pitching arm.

We’ve also discussed Simeon’s goals, which include attending college (preferably at Clemson or Auburn) on a baseball scholarship. I’ve learned that he loves tofu, wants to study sports medicine, enjoys cooking, and feels self-conscious when he stumbles over his words but is willing to talk anyway. I’ve also seen firsthand what I already knew from interacting with a lot of committed partners: that two guys from different generations, different parts of town, and different backgrounds can have a lot in common, whether it seems that way on the surface or not.

Why couldn’t I be Simeon’s committed partner? No good reason I can think of….

Friday, June 7, 2013


I have a confession to make: Last week I participated in a plot. I was sneaky and conniving, and I said things that, while not altogether untrue, were intentionally misleading. And I’d do it all again.

My co-conspirators included Sonya, a volunteer mentor, and Carmen, a board member, and the victim was Ms. Dottie, longtime program director for YES!Atlanta.

My part was simple, really: Do what it took to make sure Dottie was in our program office from 9:30 until noon Wednesday. Of course, we were coming out of a holiday weekend that Dottie had extended by using a vacation day. And she was to be onsite past typical office hours Wednesday evening to process a teen into the program. She was a good sport, though, and didn’t fuss at me too much for insisting on this particular block of time for a program planning session. Neither did she put up a fight that morning when Carmen showed up and asked her to help unload some program supplies from her car.

As Dottie walked out of the Juvenile Justice Center, Karyn Greer of 11Alive showed up to spring a surprise on her—Sonya had nominated her to be the beneficiary of a Random Act of Kindness. The gesture clearly touched Dottie, and she graciously accepted two $100 gift cards along with an admonition that she was to use them on something for herself.

The tribute was fitting. Beyond fulfilling a wide array of duties, Dottie has been there in person to celebrate high school graduations with Coaching for Success teens, and has driven hours to support some of those same grads four years later as they walked across another stage at the conclusion of their college career. She’s cooked food, organized pitch-ins, and given more rides than you could count into and out of neighborhoods many of her peers wouldn’t set foot in.

The conversation Dottie initiated as we headed back upstairs to our second-floor cubicle after her surprise says it all. She’d been interrupted in the middle of a phone call with a mentor she’s actively working to match with a young man in the program, and she was preoccupied not with how she would use her gift cards, but with getting back down to business.

“I have a soft spot in my heart for Michael,” she confided. “He’s a good kid.” (Dottie’s demonstrating that soft spot by enlisting Michael’s help with odd jobs to give him the opportunity to earn some money.) “I told [the mentor] if he’s not going to commit to doing right by him, I’ll find someone who will.” Noting my ever-so-slightly raised eyebrows, she continued. “I can talk to him a certain way, Matt.”

That she can.

So here’s to a remarkable lady whose systematic acts of caring make her such a deserving recipient of a Random Act of Kindness. Bravo, Ms. Dottie! And thanks for all that you do!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

At last!

The story of Je’Mia’s involvement with Coaching for Success reads like…well…like life just is sometimes.

She started attending the weekly tutoring sessions at the Villages at Carver last fall along with several other young ladies, all of whom knew one another through school or proximity in the neighborhood or blood relation. She’s been a fixture at those weekly sessions ever since, missing only occasionally and never without cause.

Je’Mia has a wonderful personality. She’s bright, enthusiastic, outgoing, and interacts well with peers and adults alike. But for no apparent reason, when it comes to her experience with would-be mentors, she has been snakebit.

Back in the fall, we found a match that looked solid—common interests, right geographic range, compatable personalities—and it got off to a terrific start. Je’Mia’s face is a good barometer for her feelings, and she was all smiles when she was with her mentor or talking about her. Then, a few months in, something happened. I wish I could be more specific about what that “something” was, but it’s so far proven to be one of the unsolved mysteries of this program year.

Suddenly, Je’Mia’s check-ins about her time with her mentor changed. “We went ice skating” and “We’re planning to do such-and-such” turned into “I haven’t been able to reach her” and “When will I get to see my mentor again?”

Since that match terminated prematurely, we’ve made a few cautious attempts to place Je’Mia in another mentoring relationship. There was the month or so Dottie spent trying to coordinate a meeting with another prospect before she, too, fell off the radar. And the more recent case of a potential match we explored who lived just a little too far away.

Through it all, Je’Mia has been remarkably patient. She’s frequently asked “When am I going to get a mentor?” but she’s been unwavering in her commitment to attend program activities.


Melanie’s involvement as a volunteer with YES!Atlanta began with a flourish. Before she even completed the screening and training process required before a mentor is matched with a teen, she was all in. She attended a volunteer support session, met and interacted with some veteran mentors and some fellow newcomers to the program, signed up to help staff our YES!Atlanta booth at a community event, offered to lend a hand with social media….

Melanie attended last month’s Second Saturday session, and she met Je’Mia. Theirs was only a brief first encounter. They spoke a few words to one another during the lunch break. It was enough.

Melanie told me before leaving at the end of the session that she’d really like to be paired with Je’Mia. She’d been struck by that short conversation and by Je’Mia’s sustained engagement with the group in the morning session. Two days later, at the weekly tutoring session, Je’Mia inquired about the possibility of a match with Melanie.

The rest is history. Melanie completed her training two weeks ago, and Je’Mia’s mom hosted the match meeting this Wednesday. Today marks the first one-to-one meeting of this brand-new committed partnership. Je’Mia’s telltale smile is back, and I believe it—and her new mentor—is around to stay.