When Duty Calls
By: Russell White, AmeriCorps VISTA Member
Kitty Myers knows what it is like to have a loved one serve in the military and be away for long periods of time. The feeling of missing that person can be overwhelming, especially when they aren’t around for important events and critical moments. Her husband was a Navy pilot. The time that her husband served in the military gave you ample experience that would prove useful later in her life when she decided to mentor a young boy in 2nd grade – Spenser. His father served in the National Guard.
After Kitty’s husband died, she was looking for something to do; something new to add to her life. With all her children grown and living elsewhere, life at home was a bit lonely. So, Kitty decided it would be a good idea to donate her extra time to help someone. She decided to mentor a child, which is when she signed up for Independence Community Schools Mustang Mentoring Program. Kitty has been Spenser’s mentor ever since he was in 2nd grade. Spenser graduated high school earlier this summer, meaning that they have been matched with each other for 11 years! According to Kitty, if anyone else would have been matched with him then they “would have, too.” Following graduation, Spenser is attending boot camp for the National Guard and is enrolled to South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, where he will be studying mineralogical engineering. Kitty could not be prouder of him.
Kitty and Spenser were originally matched with one another in part due to each other’s personal experiences with having a family member serve in the military. Kitty was more than capable and more than willing to mentor Spenser, especially in that part of his life. Having someone you love so dearly spend so much time away from you is difficult for anyone, adults and children alike; though it is always harder for a child to be away from a parent for so long. Kitty made a point to build trust between the two of them, and sure enough they developed a close bond with each other. They both truly enjoyed each other’s company and would share all kinds of thoughts, ideas, and opinions with one another. They would share their personal experiences and backgrounds with their loved ones serving in the military, and it made it easier for Spenser to cope. Kitty was no replacement for his father, of course; but she was a trusted friend who was there to support Spenser in anything he needed.
The two of them would meet twice a month, and in the beginning, they would play board games like Candyland when Spenser was younger. Naturally over time, Spenser grew out of playing board games designed for young children – as he entered middle school and later high school, they two of them would simply talk with each other. They would talk about just anything really! They would talk with each other about what either of them were doing, how school was going for him, what Kitty had been up to lately; in Kitty’s words, they were simply “being there for each other.” But it was more than that. Kitty would also attend his concert events and watch him play Trombone. She also attended his track events and watched him compete; cheering him on from the bleachers.
She would even, on occasion, take him on picnics to a nearby conservation park called Fontana Park in Buchanan County. They have some wild and silly stories from those picnics! The two of them hold some fond, vivid memories of those picnic visits. One of them Kitty remembers fondly, because she thought it was so amusing! One time, a deer came up near them while they were having a picnic and Spenser went up to the deer and fed it a sour cream and onion potato chip! The deer seemed to enjoy it well enough. Another time, Kitty fed an apple to a bison and was surprised whenever the apple was gone with one bite! They have had plenty of fun on their picnics.
The two of them absolutely adore one another. When Spenser was younger and learning how to write, he wrote Kitty a letter as both practice and as a heartfelt message to his mentor: “I love having you as a mentor. You are kind to me and so funny. The best part about you is that you love reading. Just like me. You are the best mentor I’ve ever had. There is a picture on the back for you.” Kitty loved the letter so much that she had it framed, and it is still hanging on her wall today. According to Kitty, that was not the first nor the last time Spenser showed how sweet and considerate of a young man he is. One time on Valentines Day, Kitty heard knocking on her door – though she wasn’t expecting any guests. To her pleasant surprise, Spenser was on the other side of the door and handed her a Valentines card and a small bouquet of flowers. Also, when Kitty fell and broke her hip Spenser made sure to visit her in the hospital and keep her company. “He is a very honest person and is always willing to learn and grow. He is such a sweetie; I am so fortunate.”
The both truly feel as if the mentoring program has done nothing but great things for the them. Kitty even felt it necessary to give both Independence Community Schools Mentoring Program (or Mustang Mentoring) and Val Maximovich her own personal endorsement! “The mentoring program is such a great program. It has given so much to me. It has given me another look on life, and on how to make my community and the school system better. It’s also important to have great people working for the mentoring program who care so much about you and your mentee. People who are genuinely interested.” Kitty’s experience with her mentee and the mentoring program has been nothing but rewarding, according to her. Kitty says that she has gained “new knowledge on the world and how to help people” while also being able to directly see the confidence it inspires in her mentee. On the flip side, it has been a great experience for Spenser as well. It has “opened the world” to him and helped him to have someone to share his experiences with and answer his questions. He is even following his father’s footsteps by attending boot camp with the National Guard.
Neither of them is still not sure how they were so lucky to have been matched with one another. Their relationship is a friendship based on mutual love and respect and sharing of experiences with each other. This has led to a bond that will last for the rest of their lives, they both suspect. In the end, this is their advice for others seeking a mentoring relationship: “the trust. The trust you develop in a good friendship. Being a good person to them and being kind.” That is what you need to have a great mentoring relationship; the trust. Kitty also believes that you must also have a love of people; especially a love of children. If you are not going into mentoring with the right intentions and without a love for people, then you could very well do more harm than good. You cannot develop the necessary trust without having a starting point of love and respect, according to her. It is hard to disagree with her logic and wisdom.
You too can develop a lifelong relationship based on trust, love, and respect. You too can make a significant change in the life of a young person and guide them through their most pivotal moments in their childhood. There are many young individuals who are waiting to have a mentor be their friend, their confidant, their guide. Are you ready to make a positive impact on someone? Then become a mentor today and take the first step by signing up with a program!