By: Russell White, AmeriCorps VISTA Member
STARS Mentoring Storm Lake is a school-based mentoring organization found as part of the Storm Lake Community School District. The program details that a STARS mentor is someone who provides a young person with support, friendship, and a positive example. STARS mentors want to help young people reach their full potential. Additionally, STARS Mentoring has a mentoring program which pairs middle school students with Buena Vista University students – BV Buddies. The program is connected to the STARS Mentoring program and the focus of the program is to “create positive, mentoring relationships between Buena Vista University students and fifth through eighth grade middle school students in the form of community service” (BV Buddies).
When it comes to mentors who “help young people reach their full potential” and provide “support, friendship, and a positive example”, there is perhaps no better example of this than Isabel Haas. Isabel Haas is a junior attending Buena Vista University (BVU) in Storm Lake, Iowa but is originally from Garland, Texas in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Her family moved up north whenever her mother took a position as a professor at BVU. Isabel’s mother has been a teacher ever since Isabel was a little girl; her mother has taught pre-k, elementary school, middle school, high school, and now the university level. Isabel has always been moved by the stories of her students her mother greatly impacted; stories detailing just how much she changed their life by simply being in their corner and supporting them. So, it is not unusual that Isabel was allured and taken by the idea of the BV buddies program; she thought that the program presented her with a great opportunity to be that advocate for someone.
Today, Isabel is matched with an 11th grade student, Sally Henry! Angie Woodford had talked to Sally about all the many benefits that come with getting a mentor. After thinking on it for a while and seeing how other students she knew getting mentors and enjoying the experience, she figured that it would be a good idea to have one as well! Ever since Isabel and Sally have been matched, they’ve practically been two peas in a pod. The two of them have nothing but kind words to share about one another. For example, Sally enjoys how nice Isabel is. “She is very loving and easy to talk to. Knows how to start a conversation and make it feel relaxed; I always feel very comfortable.” Being both loving and easy to talk to has been advantageous for Sally because Sally has from time-to-time talked to Isabel about personal things happening in her life, which Isabel was happy to listen and offer up some helpful advice. As for Isabel, she says that Sally is “always super joyful and very positive all the time. She has quite the infectious character; she makes me smile a lot.”
Though it is no wonder that they get along so well considering how much they have in common! For example, when Isabel used to live in Dallas, she was a dancer for her high school. Sally is also a dancer and they at times share stories about their experiences with dancing. They also both enjoy playing games and putting their own twist on the games, making them a little different and a bit more competitive. One of Sally’s favorite things to do is to play a game call Headband which involves putting cards, with usually single words on them, in the headband and then the other person has to act out the word. Needless to say, according to Sally, the two of them just cannot stop laughing so hard. For Sally, playing games with Isabel is just fun because they have a good time while acting silly.
The two of them have made some pretty good memories with each other. One of Isabel’s favorite memories is when last year the two of them went to Fort Frenzy which is a large entertainment center in Fort Dodge, Iowa. It has a full arcade, go-karts, mini-golf, spin zone, laser tag, bumper boats, bowling and a café! A whole group of middle school and high school student were invited for a mentee/mentor day; typically, only about 10 mentors tend to go. That day, Isabel and Sally were one of the only college/high school pairs to be there, which gave them plenty of time to bond together one-on-one and strengthen their relationship. “It was just a lot of fun to be out of school and playing games with each other while bonding.” Bumper boats, arcade games, and go-karts do sound like a ton of fun! Sally’s favorite memory with Isabel is really sweet – literally. Her favorite memory of the two of them was when they baked and decorated Christmas cookies during the holidays. What made the memory special for Sally is just how relaxed and silly she is whenever she is spending time with Isabel. “Every time I am with her, I just laugh, talk about school, and we spend time hanging out. It was a lot of fun. She also gave me some of her cookies, which I thought was nice.”
Though these two do not have a shortage of fun, silly memories with one another, the two of them have also greatly impacted and benefited the other person’s life in ways that they may not realize. For Sally, Isabel has helped her to develop more confidence in herself as a unique individual, as well as a smart and fully-capable student. “There was a time I didn’t feel confident about a test I was going to take, and Isabel encouraged me that I would be just fine. After taking the test, I ended up getting a good grade on it. She helped me feel more certain of myself going into the test.” If giving her a boost of confidence wasn’t enough, Sally said that Isabel taught her an incredibly important life lesson about self-worth and being comfortable about yourself. “She taught me that it’s okay to just be yourself. Everyone else is taken, and just being your is all that matters. You don’t need to act like someone else. It is far better to be yourself.” As for Isabel, she feels that the experience mentoring is something truly rewarding, and that mentoring Sally has brought her an immense amount of happiness. Mentoring Sally and being part of the BV Buddies program has also encouraged Isabel to become more involved in the community.
In fact, she became a Student Coordinator with the program in her first year of mentoring. She has gone above and beyond to recruit mentors, retain them through trainings and recognition events, and to help ensure the program is following best practices. She has also helped to recruit over 50 mentors to the mentoring program, over her two years on the college BV Buddies leadership team. She was also an important part in getting two athletic teams to commit to the program. She has been highly motivated to not only stick to the one-hour commitment every week to meet with Sally but has also committed herself to further improving and expanding the BV Buddies program so that more mentors and mentees can receive the benefits that her and Sally have experienced.
It is no wonder how and why Isabel has had such an impact on Sally’s life and vice versa. When suggesting what to find in a mentor, Sally was highly influenced by the way Isabel interacts with her on a regular basis. “I’d say you should find someone that cares for you and a person that can talk to you about just about anything, especially things you an relate to. Find someone that won’t judge you for who are you, what you are, and what you do.” Sally truly sees Isabel as another friend who she can trust and be herself around; someone who she knows is in her corner. Which is what Isabel was hoping for Sally. Isabel’s goal as a mentor was to be just that; a reliable friend who’s there to support Sally. Isabel wanted to make sure that Sally felt like someone was in her corner supporting her to realize her full potential, as well as to have a shoulder to lean on. “I think she knows that she has someone in her corner, especially someone who is not that far off in age. I think it is so different to talk to someone who is not far removed in age.” All mentors should have the ability to be easy to talk to while also showing that they are reliable for their mentees. In Isabel’s perspective, it is important that a good mentor be “someone who listens. A mentor isn’t necessarily someone who actively mentors all the time but can just be a friend. Having that mindset and knowing that there are kids who need friends and an advocate is what you need to be a good mentor.”
We here at the Iowa Mentoring Partnership would have to agree. A mentoring relationship should feel organic and natural, and one shouldn’t feel a constant need to be forcefully mentoring. Just be there for them; be willing to sit down and listen to them; be their friend and be that person in their corner. After all, Isabel knows what she is talking about – she has been nominated and selected to receive an Excellence in Mentoring Award come this April! STARS Mentoring and BV Buddies is fortunate to have a dedicated and committed mentor like Isabel, and the IMP is always elated to find such committed volunteers doing great work in their communities.
Follow in Isabel’s example and take time out of your week to spend just one hour with a child so that you too can have a powerful impact on their lives. Be that person in their corner and be their advocate! Become a mentor today and push a child to realize their full potential!