Sara, a 28-year-old “Big Sister” from Connecticut, knew she wanted to help a young person build the self-esteem and life skills necessary to navigate womanhood. Her female mentors meant so much to her, and she loved the idea of embodying that role for someone else. “It was really important to me to show a young girl what a confident woman looks like — that she can be strong and vulnerable, happy and sad, smart and confused, loud and shy… that there were so many ways to love ourselves as women,” she explains. Having been involved with the women’s empowerment hub KOTA alliance for several years, Sara decided to take the leap into mentoring with Bigs & Littles NYC.
“I remember not really knowing what I was signing up for or if I would be up to the task,” Sara confesses. “I wanted to be a good enough example to call myself a ‘mentor,’ not just in word but in deed.”
When she first met her mentee and “Little Sister,” Haily, Sara was eager for the 10-year-old to like her. She cracked jokes to ease any nerves, and Haily responded with shy chuckles that turned to laughter. Haily joined the mentoring program for academic support — but also for someone to simply have fun with. As the pair giggled, a relationship rooted in joy began to develop.
“I met Haily and thought, this girl already loves herself,” Sara says. “It’s up to us to keep it that way.”
Not Just a Teacher
Sara approached the mentorship with big plans and the best intentions. She wanted to take Haily to the National Museum of Mathematics to make math homework more relatable; to teach her about dinosaurs at the American Museum of National History; and to build a giant LEGO tower of Elsa’s castle from Frozen 2 to facilitate brain cognition. What the pair actually did was a little different.
“We did not draw right angles but instead threw basketballs in perfect parabolas toward their [the Museum’s] hoops,” Sara explains. “[We] did not linger on T-Rex’s mighty form but rather in the gift shop purchasing ‘best friend’ necklaces. And [we] did not even remotely build Elsa’s tower but instead designed LEGO women that we felt best represented us.”
Sara soon realized that her job as a mentor wasn’t just to teach. She was learning to “appreciate the moments of joy we experience when we stop trying to ‘accomplish something’ and simply surrender to having fun,” she said.
With this in mind, the pair’s next outing was to the Sloomoo Institute, an interactive playground dedicated to the creation of slime (“Haily is completely obsessed with slime,” Sara notes). As they squished the goo under their feet, molded it in their hands, and picked the colors and scents they liked best, Haily’s face beamed as she told her mentor she was “so happy.”
“That took my breath away,” Sara says. “Corny as it is, she was the one teaching me that joy is this precious, life-inducing thing and that if you get to experience it, you should hold onto it for all it’s worth.”
Do you know an outstanding mentor like Sara? Nominate them for the 2022 MENTOR of the Year Awards before July 8th! Learn more and nominate.
Check out our resource, Making Room for Fun and Play, to discover more about how you can create spaces of joy in mentoring. You can also listen to Brenda Jimenez, CEO of MENTOR New York, discuss this important topic on the Mentor Chat podcast.