Throughout my life there have been people I admired and looked up to. I realized the value and impact of having mentors in my life when I spent a summer working for a charitable group as a camp counselor for challenged teens. I learned as much from them as they did me and what I felt and shared that summer left me with a lasting impression.
From that point forward, I decided that I’d have to support and or mentor someone in the future. It has now been more than 20 years that I’ve been a mentor in some way in many programs to young women and men within the communities where I’ve worked, played, and lived. Seven years ago, when I was asked to be a mentor in the multicultural summer program hosted by the Arts & Business Council of NY, I didn’t hesitate to respond ‘yes!’
I believe as a mentor I have an important role in assisting the mentee to learn how to manage priorities and perspectives. I firmly believe everyone has natural gift they can share with others. To share knowledge, wisdom, and understanding is a gift. Helping others to achieve their goals and dreams can impact not only the lives of those who are being mentored, but the lives of everyone they touch. For me, helping others reach their potential is fulfilling in ways I can’t begin to explain.
The Multicultural Arts Management Internship program (sponsored by my employer conEdison) promotes diversity in administrative staffing, introducing undergraduates to career options with a business focus in the arts. Each year, a select group of students (the program places emphasis on students of African-American, Asian-American, and Latino backgrounds), who are matched with New York City arts organizations to complete summer-long, project-based internships in a variety of disciplines.
The program is a unique in that it focuses on the diversity in administrative staffing and it introduces undergraduates to career options with a business focus in the arts. Each year hundreds of applications are filled out by students from across the nation as well as a few who are international students vying for a space in this summer long internship program. ABC/NY has developed creative partnerships between the arts and business communities that enhance the business and creative skills by engaging volunteers as mentors who care about and enjoy the arts.
I’ve had several great interns to mentor, but the one that stand out for me is from the class of 2010—Keilah Johnson. I have maintained contact with most of the young ladies I’ve met in this program, but Ms. Johnson has made me feel the most rewarded as she has progressed and is now a business owner and accomplished college graduate who changed her entire perspective and career path as a result of her experience in the ABC/NY summer internship.
I met an introverted young women whose aunt accompanied her to the opening breakfast and who was unsure of why she was in this internship program, but that it felt like it was something she must do.
We began spending time together as I took Keilah to a number of events at which my husband and I volunteered or that he wanted to attend in order to take photos (one of his hobbies). This turned out to be a great arrangement for establishing our relationship. It became like on-the-job training for her and she blossomed with her exuberance and curiosity.
I truly enjoyed how she sought my input and assured her that an idea wasn’t silly or when she got an idea I shared she hadn’t thought of. She developed her ideas, adapted them, and used what she learned to become an integral part of special projects at WNYC radio where she helped to develop their social networking identity.
Keilah went back to her hometown university after this internship and started her own business. I could not have been more proud to think I had helped her achieve a goal she didn’t even know she’d bring to life when she applied for the ABC/NY program.
But, the point of greatest humility and thanks I experienced being her mentor was when her family invited us to meet them at her sister’s birthday party and her mother expressed thanks for helping her as I did.
Mrs. Johnson said that Keilah is the child who picked a career path that none of the rest of her family had any inkling of a way in which to help and guide her to succeed. She said ‘thank you’ and ‘I appreciate you’ because now they had a clearer understanding about her ideas and drive. She said they could not have done so on her own and the family was glad she had me as a mentor to help.
Because of experiences like this, I will continue to be a part of this program as long as I can. It is a most rewarding learning and teaching experience for me.
(This post is one in a weekly series highlighting The pARTnership Movement, Americans for the Arts’ campaign to reach business leaders with the message that partnering with the arts can build their competitive advantage. Visit our website to find out how both businesses and local arts agencies can get involved!)