Empowering Youth Through Education

Q&A: Erin Kuechenmeister

Meet Fulfillment Fund mentor Erin Kuechenmeister, who was matched in 2009 with her student Dalia.

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 the Fulfillment Fund from another mentor, Alexis Addrisi. She has been involved with the Fulfillment Fund for several years and is currently mentoring her second student through the high school process. Before, I had been involved with volunteering for a young professionals group, but it didn't feel like a good fit for me. I wanted to work with students. Fulfillment Fund was a perfect fit for me.

Q: What was your experience during the mentor training process? What did you learn? What surprised you? 

A: I thought the training process was terrific. I got to meet several Fulfillment Fund staff members and new mentors. I learned valuable information pertaining to what was expected of me and my student, how to handle possible scenarios, and fun suggestions for activities. I was surprised to learn I wasn't supposed to concentrate on helping with school work, instead on building a relationship that was more like a big sister.

Q: What was it like when you first were introduced to your mentee? What was her life like at the time? 

A: When I first met Dalia, I was nervous. I wanted her to like me and I wanted her parents to feel comfortable with me, knowing that their child was going to be spending time with me. The language barrier was less of a problem than I thought, as our Fulfillment Fund case manager translated. I think we were all very excited at the prospect of what the relationship could be and all the good things to come.

Q: How has your relationship grown over time? Can you share any specific examples of how you helped your mentee overcome a challenge that might have prevented him/her from reaching his/her educational goals?

A: Dalia has really opened up to me about many aspects of her life. When I first met her, she was very shy. So shy that when we went to restaurants she wanted me to order for her. That is no longer the case. She is very open in social situations and feels more comfortable engaging with new people. I couldn't be more proud of how far she's come and what our relationship has blossomed into.

Q: What is your mentee doing now? What are your hopes for your mentee in the future? 

A: My mentee is enjoying some time off after completing her college applications and finals. My hope is that Dalia will be accepted into college, continue her education and become a successful member of society.

Q: How have you changed, or what have you learned, because of your experience as a mentor?

A: Being a mentor is such an honor.  It's a thrill to be able to experience things with Dalia for the first time: bowling, mini-golf, baking cookies from scratch, volunteering at a beach clean-up, etc. I feel like a better person by having her in my life. She really puts things into perspective for me. I had a lot of things growing up that she doesn't, yet she is focused and dedicated to her education and building a better life for herself and her family. 

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 say jump in and get started. It is life-altering for you and your mentee. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain. It doesn't take much, just some of your time and a commitment to be a positive influence in someone's life. The reward is immeasurable. Fulfillment Fund is a great place to get involved. The staff are knowledgeable and helpful in growing your relationship with your student. What are you waiting for?! 

Q: How has the Fulfillment Fund helped to support your relationship?

A: The staff has been great. I never would have made it through the first meeting with Dalia and her parents without Pablo, our case manager. Everyone is really fantastic and supportive. The training helped prepare me for what and who I needed to be the best mentor for my student. They have kept me informed of events and activities and answered any questions I’ve had along the way.

Erin Kuechenmeister graduated from Michigan State University with a BA in advertising. She is a project manager at a financial management firm in downtown Los Angeles and is a freelance graphic designer. It has been ten years since she moved to California from Michigan in order to escape the cold, snowy winters.

For more information about the Fulfillment Fund mentor program, visit www.fulfillment.org/mentoring.