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Give and Take: Building Lasting Relationships with iMentor

Luke Willoughby  Follow

Give & Take is a monthly column that takes a look at the intersection of the for-profit and non-profit worlds and the overall role philanthropy plays in connecting people. Through our guest posts, we take a deeper dive into how the power of story can shape and strengthen these ties. Luke Willoughby, Digital Media Specialist at Prosek, has volunteered with iMentor, one of the country’s fastest-growing mentorship volunteer organizations, for over three years. In this month’s Give & Take, Luke shares his experience volunteering with the organization.

For most volunteers with iMentor in New York City, the fun starts with the train ride from Manhattan to the student’s high school. The public schools with the iMentor program are mostly located in the Bronx and outer Brooklyn, so it’s a trek through rush hour to get to each monthly meeting at 6pm - trying to set a good example by showing up on time. 

The meetings take place in a common area at the school, like the cafeteria or library. Pizza is generally served as dinner, with the six-foot sub reserved for special occasions. You’ll sit and eat with your 'mentee' and you get to know each other, little by little, over the course of several years.

My first mentee, Wandy Munoz, was a tall and friendly kid from the Dominican Republic. I first met him when he was a Junior, aged 16, and I was fortunate enough to eventually see him graduate. When we first met he smiled a lot and seemed to have friends everywhere, and they all spoke in Spanish. Among his many remarkable characteristics, Wandy was a hemophiliac. Though treated and completely safe, Wandy did have one circumstance where a slight blow to his left hand caused his middle finger to swell to the size of a golf ball. He was in no hurry to have it reduced back to a normal size. 

When I asked Wandy what he wanted to study in college, he answered, "Business, because I like people.” Wandy would do well in business, but first he had to take the SAT’s and get enrolled in college. Supporting the mentees in their preparation for college is the primary aim of the iMentor program. Though college acceptance is difficult for anyone, I realized I had taken my experience for granted when I was trying to assist Wandy and his peers. English as a second language is an endless challenge when trying to learn the intricacies of a multiple-choice test designed to stump even the smartest English-speaking youth.  

My second mentee, a young man named Zaire, didn’t have a language barrier, but wouldn't focus on the SAT’s because of the fact that Bronx Community College offers automatic acceptance. "If I want to go to college, I'll just go to BCC,” he would say confidently. For Zaire, our goal was to accomplish all the tasks needed to graduate, including passing each class and community service hours. What eventually made this possible with Zaire was not my professional experience, but simply our growing relationship and common interests. Zaire has one of the most impressive recollections of bizarre movies I've ever known, and we turned his thorough knowledge of 'Apocalypse Now' into the basis for his senior project.

Whatever the challenge, mentees like Wandy, Zaire and their classmates are shown many important possibilities from the iMentor program and its volunteers. Because of its long-term duration, it's the relationship that ultimately makes the difference for the students.

For the mentors, the benefits of the program are much greater. The sessions end around 8:30pm, and the trains back into the city are open and quiet. Most of the volunteers I’ve talked to would say it’s a much nicer ride home than any ordinary day. 

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