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“Katie Didn’t Wait for Me”: A Mentee Becomes a Mentor

NOVEMBER 30, 2016

As mentoring practitioners, many of us struggle to recruit enough mentors, let alone mentors who can provide specialized support and understanding to young people who have faced certain life experiences. At Knoxville Leadership Foundation, we wanted to share a story from our work that illustrates how a mentee was inspired by her own mentoring experience to eventually become a mentor. We hope this story sheds some light on an important question that we in the mentoring field may ask ourselves: how can we not only support young people, but also empower them to one day mentor others?

Amachi Knoxville matched Katie (mentor) and Reese (mentee) on June 8, 2009. Katie was 19 and Reese was 11 on that special day when they embarked on their mentoring journey.

Amachi Knoxville is Knoxville Leadership Foundation’s (KLF) evidence-based mentoring program for children of incarcerated parents designed to help children achieve their highest potential. KLF brought the program to Knoxville in 2004 to help children of incarcerated parents by engaging them in safe, committed mentoring relationships. They work with more than 30 community partners to identify and recruit safe, committed mentors to work with the more than 4,000 children in Knoxville who currently have a parent in state prison. To provide the best foundation for a strong and lasting relationship, Amachi Knoxville mentors interview with program staff, complete a background check, and receive extensive training in risk factors, protective factors, communications methods, advocacy, and life and leadership skills. Mentors commit to spending 4-6 hours per month for a year, attend quarterly mentor support trainings, and complete monthly surveys to track activities, challenges, and progress.

Katie remembers that Reese was very withdrawn and reluctant to talk to Katie about anything personal when they first met. Katie just kept showing up and gave Reese time and space to trust her. They spent many hours in companionable silence, cooking, doing homework, and reading. Fast forward to Reese’s high school years - Katie helped her study for the ACT, look into colleges, work to get her driver’s license and find an internship. Throughout high school, Reese was in the Spanish Honors Society, excelled in math and pushed herself to make straight A’s every semester.

In 2015, she was chosen by her principal as the school ambassador to meet Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. As a senior, she was dual enrolled at Pellissippi State Community College and completed four college courses. In the face of these achievements, it still burdened Reese that during her senior year in high school while she was preparing to graduate and start college, she was on a much different path than close friends who had dropped out of high school.

Katie describes Reese as “a very beautiful, talented, smart and courteous young lady.” She feels fortunate to have been able to support Reese through some life struggles such as her having limited contact with her incarcerated father and little time with her brother who was stationed in South Korea. However, Katie is quick to say that she has benefited from their relationship as least, if not more than Reese has. Katie shared her passion of hiking with Reese and over the eight years they were matched, they logged hundreds of miles hiking and experienced glorious sites together on their backpacking trips.

In 2016, Reese started sharing about her dream to one day be an Amachi mentor. Katie would ask her from time to time about it and Reese would say the same thing, “I’m not ready yet.” Reese is now nineteen and during a recent conversation on a hiking trip, she shared, “I’m the same age you were when we were matched.” Katie said she could tell something had changed and sensed that Reese was doing a lot of serious reflection on their special relationship. Reese recently reached out to Amachi to let them know she’s interested in taking the next steps to becoming a mentor herself. When asked, “why now?” her response was simple and profound, “Katie didn’t wait for me.” What a testament to the life-long impact mentoring has on not only the mentees but our amazing mentors.

Reese is a full-time student at Pellissippi State Community College and plans to pursue a degree in Engineering at the University of Tennessee. Her father is still incarcerated and she’s looking forward to building a relationship with a young girl who is impacted by a parent’s incarceration.

As the facilitators of strong, supportive mentoring relationships like Katie’s and Reese’s, we notice the moments when young people realize that they too have the power to shape the lives of others. These moments are critical in empowering our youth to realize their full potential, and cultivating a next cohort of mentors who truly understand the impact and power of mentoring. We welcome your ideas and comments here – how else can we support and encourage our young people, once mentees, to volunteer as mentors?

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