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Finding Family: Michael & Ruben's Mentoring Story

Ruben arrived in Buffalo, NY, with no family or friends to greet him. Having fled violence in his native country of Columbia, he was granted asylum in the US, where he faced an uncertain future.

A driven young man in his early twenties, Ruben felt determined to succeed in his new country despite speaking little English. He volunteered at Vive Refugee Center where his hard work and “can do” attitude soon got him noticed. In April 2019, he was recommended for a job at Response to Love Center, a pantry dedicated to feeding Buffalo’s East Side and providing pathways to self-sufficiency. Michael, Assistant Director at the Center, saw Ruben’s potential immediately. He was hired the same day.

Working to Earn Trust

Ruben joined the team in the stockroom, where Michael took him under his wing. He taught the keen learner how to handle products, conduct inventory controls, rotate stock, and other essential on-the-job skills. He also helped Ruben with his English, which proved to be an inspiring mentoring experience. Meeting Ruben was a chance to reflect on his own “safety net,” Michael said, and he felt compelled to help him succeed.

"I was blessed with a strong, tight-knit family,” Michael explains. “He [Ruben] had no one (in the U.S.)… I had to step it up.”

Feeling protective of Ruben, Michael recalls cautioning him to “not trust just anybody.” 

“Then why should I trust you?” Ruben responded. “I’ll earn your trust,” he promised.

With his new mentor's help and encouragement, Ruben — always a quiet, focused worker — started to come out of his shell. He excelled to become a most valuable member of staff, Michael said, reaching many of the goals he wanted to achieve when coming to America.

The Family You Find

Today, Ruben continues to flourish. Seeing him grow in confidence is not only satisfying for his mentor; Sister Mary Johnice, Executive Director at the Center, also couldn't be prouder of his development.

“[Ruben] got his green card and his New York State Driver's License," she said. "He worked as an essential worker throughout the entire COVID pandemic and is almost fluent in English, in less than two years.”

While Michael and Ruben still work together, they also enjoy watching WWE wrestling and going for all-you-can-eat Chinese food. For Ruben, their mentoring relationship goes well beyond the workplace.

“Mike is supportive, and he lets me be me,” he said. “Michael is my family.”

Discover more about the power of mentoring in the workplace and how you be part of a young person's journey to success.


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