Sometimes mentoring is hard and it feels like it is not working. I felt like this when two of my three high school mentees did not show up for one of our weekly commitments. It hurt. I wondered if I had done something wrong, if they had lost interest in the program, and even if this was something worth investing my time in. But then I realized that the girl who did show up was courageously taking on the challenge of running our afternoon tutoring session by herself. She had the 4th graders sitting at the table, getting out their homework and writing utensils. She settled the students down with our clapping routine and they listened to her clear instructions. This moment, when she had no one else to rely on, gave her the chance to shine. I looked around and saw math worksheets and spelling words in front of nearly all the students. The one student who was taking a bit longer to get ready had my mentee right by his side, guiding him towards getting out his school work and helping him remember what had been assigned in class. I beamed with pride watching her excel rather than being flustered or angered by the absence of her tutoring team. Despite her amazing performance, however, I still couldn't shake off the feeling of the other two not showing up. Before the students could finish one side of their worksheets, one of the no-show mentees ran into the room. He was panting and a bit flustered. He looked at me and apologized for being late. His living situation had changed abruptly and he had needed to go a few extra bus stops to get his uniform. Before I could even excuse his tardiness, he was beside a student helping explain a grammar question. No more than three minutes later, the last mentee came through the doors. I took one look at him and knew something was not right. He seemed shocked, like he was in a daze. He apologized for being tardy, but mid sentence his voice cracked. We took a walk outside and it became apparent that he was clearly troubled by something that had happened. During a long walk and conversation, he revealed some information about his family life and talked about how it was affecting him. Afterwards, he said it felt so good to finally get it off his chest. I asked him if he wanted to skip our commitment for the evening and take the time for himself, but he refused, saying that he wanted to be around Project Coach. He remained quiet through the rest of tutoring, but I could see in his eyes that being with his team of coaches and with the 4th graders was lifting his spirits. After tutoring, we started our soccer practice with the 4th graders. All three high school coaches were there and doing a great job. The mentee who showed up last was still lower spirits than normal when we started, but by the end of practice, he was goofing around with the children, playing games, and even led our team through the final huddle. I left Project Coach that day understanding a little bit better how much this team, this family means to our mentees. It is an opportunity to step up to the challenge, to learn how to quickly adapt to changing and unexpected situations. It is also a place that will ground you when the rest of your life is in flux and when you maybe do not know where you will be sleeping one night. It is also a place where you can go and be with people who support and care for you, where you can get things off your chest and not be judged, where the relationships you built will sustain you through dark hours. On my way home that evening, I also realized that even when it feels hopeless and like nothing is working, it oftentimes actually is.


--Cristina Masurat