When I moved to the DC area this past summer, I made the decision to use this unexpected relocation as a fresh start. It was the catalyst I desperately needed to intentionally examine the way I was living my life from day-to-day. I was the queen of "someday." Someday I'll get better at that; Someday I'll experience that; Someday I'll accomplish that; Someday.Someday.Someday.
No time like the present.
I have always wanted to volunteer. Specifically, I wanted to become a mentor, because mentoring works. I greatly believe in the power of mentor-ship, and have personally benefited exponentially from others who have taken the time to support me, encourage me, and offer me guidance, both in a personal and professional sense. I spent several days pouring over volunteer websites like Volunteer Match and Idealist until I finally stumbled upon the perfect match for me. SOHO. It combined my desire to mentor with my love of interior design, art, and creativity. I have been volunteering for Space of Her Own (SOHO) this entire academic year, and it has been such a phenomenal experience.
Why I love this organization:
It's Proactive: As a member of the education profession, I am drawn to proactive/preventive services. It takes exponentially less time, energy, and resources to prevent a problem from happening, then it does to respond after issues have arisen. While initially researching various volunteer organizations, I read through SOHO's website where I learned that it was founded in 2002 through the Juvenile Court Service Unit as an effective way to help curb the increase in juvenile delinquency, particularly within children from low income households. Rather than focusing energy on just responding once adolescents are already "in the system," the Juvenile Court Service Unit invested in the creation of this amazing organization. They target 5th grade at-risk girls (a critical year in school) and provide them with essential life skills and link them with an empathetic, professional, and dedicated mentor.
Mentor/Mentee Matches Are Thoughtful: They really put a lot of consideration into who will become your mentee. For the first month, we did consistent "get-to-know-ya" activities, and worked on various art projects while rotating around to all of the girls. This allowed us to really get to know each of the girls, and for them to get to know us. The program manager then asked for input prior to matching us with our mentee. "Match Night" was such an exciting night! We were told ahead of time who our mentees was going to be, so that we could plan a special off-campus evening. The girls all faced the wall (and were so giggly with excitement) and then we each stood behind our new mentee. They turned around at the same time, and were so happy! We then were able to take our girls out for a special dinner/activity. It was such a fun night!
It's Weekly: We meet every single week as a whole group. It's a big time commitment, but I this consistency is so important, and has really helped to establish a really positive consistent mentor/mentee relationship.
It Targets So Many Things:
- Social/Life Skills: The girls stay after school on our SOHO day where they first work on homework, and then they engage in a social skill/life skill lesson. These have been focused on things like goal setting, speaking assertively, personal care/health/and hygiene, conflict resolution, and much more.
- Healthy Meals: The mentors (adults) then arrive and we share a healthy meal together. I sit with my mentee and I get to discuss the life skill lesson and speak to her about the ups and downs of her week.
- Art Projects: After we've finished eating, we then have local artists come and lead the whole group in individual art projects. These art projects incorporate other skills like mathematics skills, planning, working with tools, as well as engaging in community service projects.
Encouraging Her Individual Growth (1:1 Time): We have the opportunity (if we wish) to spend time with the girls outside of the school setting. The mentors spent a lot of time before meeting the girls getting trained on effective mentor skills. The organizaiton greatly emphasized that the goal of our outside interactions should always be to encourage our mentee's growth, and expose them to new experiences. I initially started out by taking her to lunches or walks with my dog to get to know one another better, but have since really tried to spend our time on activities that encourage her interests. For example, I set up a baking lesson (she wants to be a baker), have taken her to explore the DC area, have attended several of her choir concerts, explored museums, and attended a play at the Kennedy Center in DC.
Room Renovation: All of the art projects that we've completed throughout the year have been saved, and are leading up to the final "Big Event." We've made various wall art, and will soon be refurbishing donated wooden chairs for their rooms. The year is going to end with a big HGTV/Trading Spaces-style room renovation! Many of the girls share their bedrooms with siblings or parents, and the mission of the organization is to give each girl/young woman a wonderful "space of her own."
The room renovation day is quickly approaching!
I'll soon have to assemble my room renovation team, (this will basically just be my husband and I) and we will completely re-do my mentee's bedroom. This will be a whole weekend event with freshly painted walls, furniture assembly, hanging shelves, and adding unique touches that I know she's going to absolutely love.
I have so many ideas for my lovely little mentee. She absolutely loves to read, and is very motivated to do well in school. I want to get her a desk, and a book shelf... (and books!) and a little reading corner. She really wants to become a baker, and loves butterflies (because they symbolize growth... the girl is deep). So I want to incorporate her passion and provide her with useful materials to expand her interests. Our challenges will not be unique in regard to shared spaces, so I've been scouring pinterest for creative and cost efficient ideas
We are provided with a small stipend to make this happen, but I know I will spend more than what we were given, which I am beyond happy to do. This experience has enriched my life so much, and I am so excited to continue to watch my mentee grow as a successful young woman as the years go on.
Take a quick look at this video, and try not to tear up when you see some of the girls reactions to their new rooms. So precious.
SOHO's website reports:
Since 2002 SOHO has served 212 girls in Northern Virginia. All pre-teen SOHO graduates have demonstrated dramatic improvements in life skills and 98% of have not become court-involved. Today Space of Her Own, and its pre-teen boys program, Space of His Own, have expanded to involve students from 7 schools in Virginia and SOHO has trained more than 200 professionals who continue to volunteer as mentors for the most vulnerable young people and help the young people reach their potential
If you feel so inclined...
SOHO is one of Northern Virginia’s most cost effective 501(c) (3) charities. If you would like to donate to this organization, you can do so HERE. Your online donation will go towards keeping this organization afloat for yet another year!
If you would like to donate specifically to the room renovations of my group of amazing 12 mentors/mentees OR to my mentee's upcoming room renovation specifically, leave me a comment or send me an e-mail at herbearings(at)gmail.com and let me know!