Changing One Life at a Time: Mentoring Takes Center Stage as Individuals and Organizations Make Mentoring Count
Mentoring stories are classic feel good stories that are easy to plug into as a writer and as a reader. For the following Metro Magazine story about Midlands Mentoring Partnership honorees, I describe the powerful one-on-one mentoring experience of Dakotah and Peggy and the difference that it’s making in their lives and I detail how the mentoring support offered by Mutual of Omaha is impacting organizations serving youth.
Changing One Life at a Time: Mentoring Takes Center Stage as Individuals and Organizations Make Mentoring Count
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in Metro Magazine
“We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.”
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Dakotah and Peggy
Three quotes by successful people from different walks of life, all expressing something about the merits of giving to another. There’s lots of ways to aid others. Mentoring is a timeless one. Traditionally, mentoring involves guiding or encouraging someone less experienced than you to reach their potential. In the process, you grow as a person.
Midlands Mentoring Partnership honors mentoring in the metro
Mentoring happens every day around the metro in formal and informal ways. Usually, it’s a caring adult nurturing a youth.
Midlands Mentoring Partnership (MMP) is a local collective impact organization that provides area mentoring programs with strategies for achieving improved outcomes with at-risk youth and with approaches for reaching ever more young people in need.
Each year MMP recognizes individuals and organizations whose mentoring is making a difference in the community. The March 19 MMP Summit at the CenturyLink Center will honor the Mentor of the Year and Advocate of the Year and will present youth mentoring best practices.
Dakotah and Peggy: Mentor and mentee joined at the hip
First National Bank of Omaha employee Dakotah Taylor doesn’t mentor for any recognition it brings. Nevertheless, her work with the young woman she’s matched up with through Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands has netted her MMP’s Mentor of the Year award. Her 16 year-old mentee, Peggy, nominated her in a heartfelt letter. The two have been matched for five-and-a-half years, a period that saw Peggy battle severe addiction and behavioral problems that tested everyone in her life, including Taylor.
Peggy’s letter describes why her “Big” is such an important figure in her life:
“She has showed me unconditional love and I couldn’t ask for anyone better. I’ve told her things I would never tell anyone. The most important thing to me though is she has NEVER given up on me. She helped me get off the ground and onto my feet again when I couldn’t do it myself. Not only am I blessed with another friend but she’s a friend I can call my sister and I love her with my complete heart.”
Taylor tears up when the letter’s read back to her, saying, “It’s incredible.” About the award, she adds, “I never in my wildest dreams thought I would get something like this. It’s so humbling, it’s so great.”
Peggy says, “Dakotah is really a blessing because I’m a handful. She deserves this.”
Taylor’s gone the distance with Peggy, a junior at alternative Millard Horizon High School, through thick and thin. Peggy became a substance abuser before her teens and eventually dealt illegal drugs. She got caught up in things that put her, her family and Taylor in danger. She’s been in the juvenile justice court system for six years. She spent time at the Douglas County Youth Center and at Boys Town.
Now the once troubled teen has found stability. She’s sober, she’s back home, she’s expected to graduate early from high school and she’s planning to get an early start on her associate degree in nursing at Metropolitan Community College in preparation for studying to become a registered nurse and ultimately a physician. She knows without question she always has a friend to turn to in the 30-year Taylor, who’s married with a pre-school child.
All the way down the line
“Through everything, even when I was at my worst, Dakotah still was there, writing me, giving me hugs, telling me she cared, and that’s all anybody going through something like that wants,” says Peggy. “They want someone to just reassure them that everything’s going to be OK. Whether you believe it or not it still gives you some hope and I didn’t have any hope. Dakotah’s messages were so happy they brought my spirits up that I can do this, I can get out of this.”
Taylor wasn’t about to go anywhere when the going got tough.
“There’s those times when it’s somewhat challenging and it could be very easy to walk away but sisters don’t walk away from each other. You’ve got to take the good with the bad and you’ve got to keep walking.”
MMP experts say Taylor embodies what it means for mentors to stay the course when matches prove difficult. Just to stay in contact took extra effort when Peggy was not living at home. Taylor acknowledges she wasn’t always sure what to do when Peggy acted out or relapsed.
“It’s been hard for me to understand what Peggy has gone through because I didn’t have to face those things. Any time we were together I would ask her questions and drill her about, OK, why did you do this?
I think I needed to somehow put myself in her shoes and understand her thought process. Unfortunately she did make some bad decisions but she’s rectified those and she’s a strong woman now.”
Taylor also knew she was not alone but part of a team helping Peggy.
“Her mom and dad and I had some very hard conversations. We cried on the phone together when they didn’t know how to handle her. Everybody felt so hopeless. There were times I reached out to Big Brothers Big Sisters when I didn’t know what to do. But I knew this young woman needed guidance, she needed someone to stick by her side no matter what, even if we didn’t get to see each other. She always knew I was only a phone call away.”
For Taylor, there’s nothing better than seeing how far Peggy’s come.
“She’s in great place now. She looks so great and all grown up. Seeing her smile makes my heart smile.”
She expects great things ahead for her Little.
“Everything – the moon, the stars, anything she wants. She’s so smart. Her true passion in life is to help other people. Once she puts her mind to something she’s going to do it and now i’ve seen that.”
Peggy finally turned the corner when she stopped resisting getting help and surrendered to her Higher Power and to caring adults in her life.
She’s shared her experience with peers, who often come to her for advice. “I love helping people,” Peggy says. “As long as I help one person it’s going to make a difference in the world.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters CEO Nichole Turgeon says Dakotah and Peggy embody what mentoring’s all about.
“They have faced incredible challenges together and Dakotah gave Peggy hope for her future which has allowed her to persevere. I am confident Peggy is on the path to becoming a successful and happy adult and I know Dakotah will be with her every step of the way.”
More than sisters in name, Dakotah and Peggy believe they’ve developed an unbreakable lifelong bond.
“I have no doubt it’s going to be a sisterhood for the rest of our lives. We’re sisters not by blood but by choice,” says Taylor.
Passing it on
Taylor encourages anyone wanting to make a positive difference in a youth’s life to become a mentor. Just be prepared to make a deep commitment and enduring connection the way Dakota did with Peggy.
Says Taylor, “Our paths would have never crossed if it wasn’t for Big Brothers Big Sisters. It has changed my life. It’s brought someone into my life I deeply care about. I would do anything for her and she would do anything for me.”
Peggy sees herself following Dakotah’s footsteps. “I probably will end up being a Big myself.” She advocates the benefits of mentoring, saying, “There is a match out there for someone, there is.”
Many employers encourage their employees to serve as mentors. Taylor says her employer, First National, supports her volunteering. Mentees like Peggy are the beneficiaries.
Mutual of Omaha and Mutual of Omaha Foundation: Mentor advocates
Mutual of Omaha is another employer that supports the Midlands Mentoring Partnership. More than 50 Mutual staffers serve as mentors with seven MMP partner organizations. Among its mentors is Mutual of Omaha Foundation Program Coordinator Kim Armstrong. Armstrong mentors two young women, including one through Youth Emergency Services (YES), on whose board Armstrong once served. Much like Dakotah’s relationship with Peggy, Armstrong’s been transformed by the experience of working with her mentees.
“At the end of the day, just having someone to turn to is the greatest benefit for them – at least that’s how I see it – and I’m honored to play that role,” Armstrong says of her matches. “Most mentors will say that they benefit more from mentoring than their mentees and I am no different. I have realized unexpected benefits. I feel I have become a better mother, a better employee and a better person.”
She says each of her mentees has “played a role in opening my eyes to so much, and for that I am eternally grateful.”
Mutual has been a champion of MMP’s efforts since the catalyst organization’s formation in 1999. The insurance giant’s ongoing work as a partner and advocate of Youth Emergency Services and other mentoring providers is being recognized this year at the summit.
Going the extra mile
MMP Executive Director Deborah Neary says, “the Advocate of the Year award honors a business or organization committed to helping young people achieve their potential through mentoring.”
Christine Johnson, president and CEO of the Mutual of Omaha Foundation, says she encourages mentoring in part because “it helps to build a cohesive, motivated, engaged workforce, which we know is shown to increase employee performance and productivity.”
In addition to their involvement with YES Mutual employees serve as board members for various mentoring organizations and encourage fellow employees to mentor. The Mutual of Omaha Foundation provides financial support for mentoring efforts.
YES Executive Director Mary Fraser Meints says anything that bolsters mentoring is a net gain for participants and for society.
“Youth who have a mentor have better attendance at school, a better chance of going on to higher education and better attitudes toward school,” she says. adding, “The leadership role Mutual of Omaha has taken with the mentoring program offered by YES has made a huge impact in helping our youth become more self-sufficient.”
Mutual sponsored a May party for eight college-bound YES youth. Each graduate received luggage and a laptop.
“Our youth were beyond thrilled to have their own laptop. That simple gesture alone will never be forgotten by our youth,” says Meints.
In 2013 Mutual employees volunteered beyond YES to support the Kent Bellows Mentoring Program, host engineering workshops for Girls Inc. of Omaha and participate in Kids Can Community Center’s Day of Caring. Community outreach is an important part of the Mutual culture, says Dan Neary, Mutual of Omaha chairman of the board and CEO, “Our youth are the future. One day, the community and even our company will be in their hands. So, mentoring is truly an investment in the future and it will provide returns we can’t even imagine.“
Foundation President Christine Johnson says, “We understand the importance of the quality and length of a mentoring match. We think it’s important to educate our employee volunteers about mentoring and the importance of that commitment. By providing time during the work day to grow their mentoring relationship, we hope we can help them succeed by being a positive and long-standing force in the lives of the children they mentor.
“It is a great honor for us to receive this recognition from MMP. We value their commitment to our community and have great respect for their work.”
For MMP Summit details and tickets, call 402-715-4175 or visit http://www.mmpomaha.org.
To inquire about becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister, call 402-330-2449 or visit http://www.bbbsomaha.org.