Throughout National Mentoring Month, we’re profiling a Fulfillment Fund mentor each week. This week’s mentor is Diana Diller, who was matched last year with her student Rosemary.
Q. How did you originally learn about the Fulfillment Fund? Why did you think you wanted to be a mentor at the time?
A. I learned about Fulfillment Fund through a co-worker who is a mentor. She always had great stories to tell about outings with her student and it intrigued me that she had this unique bond with a young woman who she would have otherwise never known. I had been looking for a way to "pay it forward" and hearing about my colleague's experiences got me intrigued to learn more about the Fulfillment Fund, to see if I could be a good mentor.
Q. What was your experience during the mentor training process? What did you learn, what surprised you?
A. Mentor training was fun. Everyone there sharing the day with me had a great attitude. Of course the Fulfillment Fund staff, but more specifically the other future mentors. We were all eager to get the information we needed to become amazing mentors leading our students towards a bright, successful future. The training did highlight challenges we would experience, like tough questions we might be asked, that is if our student would even open up and talk to us, which many don't do at first. It was important to learn about things like how much money was appropriate to spend on an outing and why it is recommended to refrain from buying students lots of gifts. 30 years of experience has made everyone at the Fulfillment Fund wise, but there's nothing like experiencing the scenarios brought up in training in real life.
Q. What was it like when you first were introduced to your mentee?
A. My mentee was immediately open and friendly with me. That was a relief, as was the fact that she was a self-motivated student so I wasn't worried she was at risk to drop out. I was able to focus on getting to know her, though the first year was a challenge in other ways. I personally like to make social plans weeks in advance, but her family works on a shorter timeline. I wanted to be welcomed with open arms by her parents, having them clear their schedule whenever I wanted to take my student out, but in reality I am secondary to their family and their time together. I respect that a lot, but it took me a full 12 months to understand that dynamic and get into a better groove making and executing outings.
Q. How has your relationship grown over time? Can you share any specific examples of how you helped your mentee overcome a challenge?
A. With only a year under our belts, I don't yet have enough perspective to see how my relationship with Rosemary has grown yet. Our dynamic continues to change as we get to know one another better—us both letting each other into our lives more. Overall we're on a pretty steady course. Thankfully Rosemary hasn't encountered any major challenges I'm aware of. She did spend much of the summer without any books to read and as an aspiring poet that was disappointing for her, and me. To remedy that I got her a few books—classic novels I read at her age and poetry books—as birthday gifts. It was probably a really nerdy gift in her eyes, but I want to be sure she'll never be without a good book to read again.
Q. What is your mentee doing now?
A. Rosemary is taking her mid-year exams now. She excels in some areas where girls often shrink away—like math and science—so I want to encourage her to keep working hard in those areas, in addition to putting her energy into writing and technology, which are her favorite areas of study. I want her to stay on track with the good grades she has and maintain her focus on working hard at school. So far she isn't distracted by too many outside things, like boys, but as a teenage girl that's likely right around the corner.
Q. What are your hopes for your mentee in the future?
A. I want to empower Rosemary to see the value of her hard work and understand what she can achieve by graduating from high school, then moving on to a college that will play to her strengths.
Q. How have you changed, or what have you learned, because of your experience as a mentor?
A. I have gained a great amount of patience as a mentor. I've often been impatient in life, and specifically eager to get dive into mentoring, but our first year together has been a great reminder that you can't make things happen on your own personal timeline, they just happen naturally. I have also learned to have a much greater respect for cultural differences. Without ever directly addressing them, I am vastly more aware of the differences between mine and Rosemary's cultural backgrounds than I expected to be. It has been a great learning experience, to look at the city I live in with new eyes and greater insight through personal experience and connection. I look forward to seeing what else I learn in the next four years mentoring her!
Q. If you were talking to someone who cares about education and college access issues, but isn’t sure about mentoring, what would you say about mentoring and/or the Fulfillment Fund?
A. I would highly recommend mentoring a student through the Fulfillment Fund. The Fulfillment Fund has a great structure set up to help you be the most effective mentor possible. With supportive staff, training, annual activities and opportunities to connect with other mentors you feel like part of a family of people all working together to help students succeed.
Q. How has the Fulfillment Fund helped to support your relationship?
A. My Mentor Program Advisor Janet has always been a great resource to me. When things were bumpy at the start—exactly as I was told in training they would be—she was patient, understanding and supportive. She reminded me this is a long-term journey, not a short one, so I could settle in and just do the best I could, then leave it all up to its natural course to settle in. I had a hard time believing her then, but now know she was so right, and have a great amount of respect for her wisdom. That kind of support to the mentors is what keeps us all involved when the going gets tough, as it does for all mentors at some point. Major kudos to all of the Fulfillment Fund staff for setting up great programs to support their students, their parents and the mentors. I wouldn't be able to partner up with Rosemary otherwise, and I'm so glad I met her!
Diana Diller, a program and event planner for Trust Company of the West, an asset management company in Downtown LA, writes a blog, This Is Me, highlights the good in every day moments, big and small. Diana is also a contributor to Girl Around Town where she shares a slice of Los Angeles life with readers nationwide.
For more information about the Fulfillment Fund mentor program, visit www.fulfillment.org/mentoring.