The power of a mentor
I wrote about Asilah Patterson for Sunday's paper.
She's a 17-year-old from Champaign who's focused on breaking her family's cycle of drug addiction. She's focused on succeeding - and she's had help.
One influential person in her life was the late Karen Anderson, who was her mentor through TALKS Mentoring in Champaign.
Mrs. Anderson died a few years ago, but Asilah told me she has fond memories of her mentor's advice, of slumber parties at her house with the other girls Mrs. Anderson mentored and of the delicious chocolate-chip cookies she made. She learned a lot of important lessons from Mrs. Anderson, too, she said.
I put Mrs. Anderson's name into our newspaper archive, and was amazed at what I found. Reporter Julie Wurth did a story in May 2003 about the mentoring program celebrating its first graduates. In the story, she quoted Mrs. Anderson. (I'd originally included some of the quotes in my Sunday story, but they were cut during editing):
Karen Anderson is completing her first year as mentor of three fourth-graders at Carrie Busey Elementary School. She still remembers how nervous she was on her first day.
´I remember saying to them, 'Are you scared? I am,'´ she recalled. ´They were so easy to talk with. I was pleasantly surprised by what really great kids they are. By the end of the first session, I was hooked.´
She began by asking the girls about their dreams, and each had one in mind. One girl wants to be a meteorologist (that's Asilah), another a teacher and the last, a singer.
The future singer also suffered from stage fright and couldn't imagine standing up and saying anything in front of a crowd at the banquet. Anderson encouraged her to ´never say never,´ went over the lessons carefully and offered to accompany her on stage.
When the banquet rolled around, the girl went up by herself to read, appropriately, the famous saying from President Franklin D. Roosevelt: ´The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.´
The program, said Anderson, teaches kids to believe in themselves.
´I think they just need confidence,´ she said. ´The book talks about all the potential those children have, which I believe from the bottom of my heart. Every child is put here for a purpose, and they're very valuable.´
Anderson, who lives in Savoy and works at Cozad Asset Management, has two children of her own in fifth and seventh grades. She wishes more people would sign up to mentor.
´When you get into a kid's life, you do make a difference,´ she said.
´I think it's the future of Champaign. If we want to make a difference in this town, we can go to a whole lot of meetings, or we can go mentor kids.´
After meeting Asilah and learning how on track her life is, I can see how Mrs. Anderson influenced her. I love that we were able to capture Mrs. Anderson's mentoring philosphy, even though she's no longer with us. Honestly, it makes me want to take on a mentee.
What about you? Do you mentor? How has it changed your life, or the life of the child you're involved with?
Photo: A picture of the late Karen Anderson, Asilah Patterson's mentor, from our archives.