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A Mentor's Perspective - Orchard Gardens (Part 3)

The last part in a series!

BOSTON - At the top of Leana Fraifer’s list of must-dos are good recruitment and organization. As the Program Chair for DREAM’s Village Mentoring chapter serving the Orchard Gardens community, Leana has undertaken quite a list of responsibilities. She is also a fulltime student at Northeastern University, and admits that work-life balance isn’t her strong suit, but that she gladly puts in the hours because she loves what she does as a volunteer. She’s not alone – on top of the dozen or so students serving roles as chairs of her chapter, there are multiple committees of mentors who volunteer to help out when needed. And all mentors contribute substantially each week to collaborate and prepare for DREAM events and communicate with their mentee. She attributes their hard work to the way the chapter recruit mentors. Every mentor participates in the interview process at least once, and for Leana, it was interesting to witness and distill what qualities the chapter is looking for in new recruits. “I think it was really cool to see the type of things that we were looking for…to see the type of things that would make a good mentor that you could find out from a short interview.” Most of it boils down to enthusiasm. Enthusiastic recruits are more likely to be punctual and consistent, to attend DREAM events, to be more involved and to volunteer for leadership roles themselves. Additionally, enthusiasm carries over to the relationships they build with their mentees and the time they commit to caring for their mentees. These are students who care about DREAM and the mentees they serve. “One of our new mentors who we just admitted, it was clear just by talking to her that she was excited to do this. This is the kind of thing she wants to do with her life. She was looking to become a teacher and have experience working with kids and was always seeking out those opportunities.”

Puppies are a plus too!

Despite this, even the most motivated DREAMers can experience difficult stretches of time as volunteers. Stress and responsibility are things the mentors at Orchard Gardens understand the need to support each other with consistently. With almost a dozen E-board chairs (Executive Board), Leana stressed how important sharing the workload in a student-led organization has become. The use of dual chairs for a specialty (like program chair or social chair) and a committee for community outreach are examples of strategies mentors practice that divide the work the chairs take on each week and enhance its quality, They also use Slack to share info, coordinate, and make sure everyone can find help when they need it. This blends into Leana’s own work as Program Chair. “We want everyone at the club involved in program planning,” she says. While Program Chairs provide a calendar of holidays and opportunities that her fellow mentors can consider, the mentors themselves are grouped and assigned different weekends to plan activities for. Leana helps them gather supplies, offers advice and suggestions, and generally provides support.

Leana’s greatest challenge so far has been finding the balance between activities interesting enough for older mentees yet easy enough for the younger ones to have fun when they program together as a group. “We’ve done two activities, but that kinda splits our group and we want to keep that sense of community with them, especially when you have siblings.” There are a lot of cases where a family has siblings together at DREAM with a wide range of ages, and they typically like to stick together. So dividing them with age-based activities is not something Leana likes to do. Planning activities for a program is tricky, and often the mentees won’t be interested in what was planned. Leana recognizes that thinking on your feet to keep the kids engaged is an essential skill, because the ultimate goal of these activities is to build relationships with each other and mentors and keep kids excited to come back. Even though so much thought goes into the program, sometimes flexibility is an absolute must. And when a well planned activity goes well or a quick adjustment makes everyone smile, Leana knows she has achieved something special and created meaningful memories.

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