Growing up, there were not many people I could identify as a mentor. I was blessed to have my parents involved in my life, but their biggest goal for me was to graduate high school. I had no true guidance on what career I could pursue, or what to generally pursue in life besides a good job and starting a family. However, as I went through college and began my career at National Health Foundation (NHF), I was able to understand the importance of identifying mentors who could help me in various ways.
As an undergraduate at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), I developed a close friendship with a graduate student – Esteban. He would influence my life in such a way that helped me tap into the potential I never knew I had. Being a Latino, he was someone I could identify with; someone with a similar background and a similar ambition for success. There were times when I felt overpowered by my self-doubt and in those moments, Esteban helped me overcome my doubt by believing in me and reminding me of my true potential.
By having Esteban as my mentor, I discovered the benefits of having one, which has now influenced the way I approach my role engaging with youth. When I began working as a Program Coordinator at NHF, I knew most of my duties and responsibilities would consist of engaging with youth, but I never imagined the level of impact I would have on them and vice versa. In a recent case, there was a student from the Be a STAR Boys program who stayed after class to talk about matters related to school and family. We had just covered a session on success, graduating high school, and pursuing higher education. He asked me questions regarding the college application process, the differences between community colleges and universities, financial aid, and how my family supported my pursuit of higher education. After a long conversation outside of the classroom, he thanked me for having listened and answered his questions. He also expressed that it was difficult for him to confide in some school staff, so he was appreciative of the safe space we had created. Hearing this was so powerful because to me, it is important that I help students in a way that makes them feel safe and heard.
With my involvement in Be a STAR Boys and Health Academy, I am continuously engaging with youth. As a result of building rapport with students and listening to their concerns, new programs and projects have emerged to support them at NHF. More importantly, it has allowed me to connect with youth on a level where I can provide guidance on school, careers, and even personal matters. Over the years I have learned that students need someone to talk to; someone who is willing to listen without judgement. Placing someone with life experience in front of a group of youth is not enough; a mentor needs to have an altruistic passion to inspire and uplift those around them too.
As someone who did not have a mentor growing up, I am extremely grateful and happy to assume the responsibilities of a mentor. At National Health Foundation, I have been able to foster my passion for mentorship and help students obtain necessary guidance. I hope to continue being a mentor that youth can identify with, and I hope to inspire future mentors for years to come.