Impactful Mentoring

Kara Krus

A common theme that I have discovered while working with various non-profit organization is everyone does a little bit of everything. There is never a shortage of work to be done, and no days off. Everyone—from long-term employees to new volunteers—help with various tasks to push the non-profit further into its service work and provide for needs of the community.

Career Awareness Related Experience (CARE) is no exception to this concept. The organization’s goal is to provide at-risk youth of Columbia the resources they need to enter the workforce and become self-sufficient citizens. The most important mechanism the program provides to kids is job training, which can be applied to future careers and aspirations. CARE gives these children the encouragement and aid that is needed to successfully consider their future goals.

In my initial meeting with CARE, I was giving a brief training on how to interview potential trainees of the at-risk youth community and how to score their interviews. During these interviews, I found it difficult to respond to the interviewees’ answers. A few of the questions would cause the candidate to bring up difficult circumstances that can be challenging to properly react.

Throughout the interviews, I encountered a diverse set of at-risk youth in Columbia. All of the interviews educated me about new ideas and experiences. However, one interview with an eighth-grade girl stood out to me.

This girl was a little shy and not very confident, but she answered our questions honestly. Throughout the interview, I could not help but compare her experiences to my own. When asked how she would benefit from the program, she responded by saying she wants to go to college. She then elaborated by saying that she knows her parents do not have the money to send her to college, so she wants to start saving her money now in order to continue her education.

She then talked about how she hopes to be a mother one day, and that she wants to provide for her children so that they don’t have to worry about money. I was impressed by her forward thinking and overall empathetic outlook. When I was her age, I knew I wanted to go to college. I didn’t want to go so that I could make a good life for my children. Instead, I wanted to go to college to have the “college experience” while furthering my education.

We also ask all applicants about their toughest challenges and how they are doing in school. Most respond with stories of difficult classes or losing a family member. Both circumstances are hard to overcome, but this candidate’s response varied from the norm. Hearing her responses, broke my heart. Nevertheless, her answers gave me the impression that she believes everyone has similar experiences that she had, which made me wonder how common these experiences are in her community.

Hearing her talk about her life made me understand where these children are coming from. In this girl’s case, she became mature and learned through these circumstances. Unfortunately, not all children react to such circumstances in such positive ways. I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to hear these children’s stories and further understand a segment of the population that I’ve had less interaction with than I previously thought. These stories also made me more aware of the diverse set of challenges that these children may face due to their life situations.

After speaking to these individuals, I sensed that they did not view their circumstances as extraordinary. They recognize their struggles come from circumstances that they cannot change, so they adapt and hopefully flourish in the near future.

As a college student, I feel like I live in a bubble where you only interact with other students and professors. The interactions I had with at-risk youth opened my mind to a whole new portion of Columbia that I tend to forget about. These children and their families do not live far from me, yet I was unaware of their struggles. By regularly interacting with this group, I began to get a more well-rounded view of my community. The individuals who I have worked with have an inner strength that they may not recognize yet, but it is there, and when given the opportunity, I believe that they will succeed.