By: Russell White, AmeriCorps VISTA Member
The Job Foundation has been constantly striving for a better tomorrow though financial education, mentoring, and resources for the cause of economic advancement for more than ten years. Their motto and mission are “All Children Achieving Financial Success.” The Job Foundation works aimlessly to achieve nothing short of their mission. One of the organization’s shining examples of their commitment to helping the cause of economic advancement within their community is a mentoring relationship between the retired couple, Leonard and Maureen Hanson, and their high school mentee, Kaidajaha.
During the second grade, Kaidajaha’s mother – Perrine – signed her up for the Job Foundation’s mentoring program. Kaidajaha didn’t have much of an expectation of what to expect whenever she joined the program, but she went into the experience with opens eyes. Kaidajaha was matched with one other mentor before she met Lynn and Greg McDonald and they took a real interest in her. They became her mentor for several years until the seventh grade when Lynn and Greg had to move away. She would later be matched with Maureen and Leonard Hanson who are both retired. Maureen was on the Job Foundation’s board and was involved with strategic planning. After the Hanson’s decided to retire, they also decided that they would like to fill their retirement years with more volunteer work; get involved in the community and give back as much as they could! Leonard himself said that “since Maureen was working with the Job foundation, it seemed like a natural progression to volunteer there during our retirement.”
Like with all matches, it took a little time for Kaidajaha to get used to her mentors and open up to them. Once Kaidajaha started opening about her passions and interests, it became clear to Leonard and Maureen that Kaidajaha has both an intelligent and highly creative personality! Kai sings in choir and plays in her school orchestra. On top of that, she is also writing her own book; whenever she finishes a chapter, Leonard and Maureen looks over her work. Kai has also created an interest in Leonard and Maureen in art; they’ve even gone to a few art exhibits! The only thing that Kai likes more than her creative passions is animals. It is her life’s dream and desire to become a veterinarian.
Both Leonard and Maureen aren’t necessarily animal lovers like Kai, but they volunteer with her at the Humane Society anyways. In addition, they have helped sign her up for pre-veterinarian camps and connected Kai to a veterinarian friend in Hudson so that she could shadow him for half a day. They also took her to a two-day veterinarian camp at the University of Wisconsin over the summer and she was very excited about it. Though they may not be big animal lovers, they do want to help Kai realize her hopes and dreams by giving her as many opportunities as she can get.
Aside from helping her get more experience and skills in veterinary work, they also do plenty of things just for fun! Such as going out to dinner, going to the movies, and going to the Iowa State Fair. For Kai, Leonard, and Maureen going to the Iowa State Fair is their favorite thing to do together. Kaidajaha really enjoys it because both Leonard and Maureen will ride the rides with her, walk around everywhere with her, and do just about everything with her. Sometimes Leonard and Maureen will also bring along their family and Kai likes to interact and have fun with them!
For Kai, having Leonard and Maureen in her life has been nothing but invaluable. Because of them “they help me find new experiences that I wouldn’t have experienced before. They also help me prepare for things outside of school.” It is always nice to have as many people as possible in your corner willing to help you out whenever you need it, and Kai feels that Leonard and Maureen will always offer her more help if she ever needs it. It is nice to have an extra safety net looking after you. In fact, due to her experiences, Kaidajaha would highly recommend people her age to get a mentor as well. “Having a mentor is great and if you have the opportunity you should take one, because it helps you as far as outside of school and life experiences.”
Kaidajaha is immeasurably grateful to Leonard and Maureen for their guidance and friendship, but she isn’t the only one. Leonard and Maureen find it hard to determine who is getting more out of the relationship. They feel as if they are reaping so many benefits, in lots of ways. In Maureen’s own words mentoring Kai has helped “us stay in touch and get a better feel for what young people are facing and especially in the technology arena; the new technology and how they interact with it. It’s also nice to interact with Kai to get some new ideas and different perspectives. She has taught us a lot about art.” Both Leonard and Maureen are also impressed and inspired by her capacity for kindness. According to the them, they truly appreciate how kind she is to her friends and family members. “She is very kind in how she speaks about other people and is very loyal to her friends and family.” Her compassion for others is moving. Mentoring Kai and volunteering with the Job Foundation has been such a rewarding experience for them.
They are just glad they can help prepare Kaidajaha for her future. Kai has taught them many things, and in return they believe they have helped to give her several experience with veterinary practice and what it would be like. Leonard, being modest as he is, said that “helping her get some advice and experience early on, be it little, has helped her get closer to her goals. We like to think we’ve helped provider her with a couple opportunities that she might not have gotten.”
The Hansons’ commitment to Kaidajaha is truly inspiring. Both Kaidajaha and Perrine are grateful for their role in Kai’s life. Kai believes in the power of mentoring and how it can benefit a young person’s life. Though they might not have planned this, the Hanson’s have become champions for mentoring. In asking for some advice or words of wisdom from their experience, Maureen mentioned that in order to be a good mentor “you just need to have an interest in your mentee and their life. It is important to listen. We try to give Kai a little advice here and there; you just need to help them realize their dreams.” When asked what to tell someone who was considering mentoring, Leonard and Maureen were quite straight-forward: “I would say just do it! It is very rewarding, and you get back just as much as you give. It is a great way to spend your time volunteering. You’re always learning more. I would just say do it!”
What do you say? Are you ready to just do it and commit to mentoring? Mentoring is a rewarding experience for both the mentor and the mentee. Do not hesitate to dedicate yourself to enriching the life of Iowa’s youth, as well as your own. Click this link and become a mentor today!