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Sharing power and building relationships in Bennington

BENNINGTON, VT - DREAM’s Village Mentoring program is special for many reasons. One of the fundamental pieces of the model is the manner in which a mentor is guided to empower their mentee through the relationship they build. This sharing of power embedded in the dynamic of the mentor-mentee relationship is one of the features that makes Village Mentoring so special and sets it apart from other mentoring programs. The Developmental Relationships Framework, established by Search Institute and utilized by DREAM mentors, identifies Sharing Power as a key element of its framework for building strong relationships that help kids thrive. The framework consists of five elements: Express Care, Challenge Growth, Provide Support, Share Power, and Expand Possibilities. Each element offers actionable, relationship-building steps that contribute to meaningful, positive interactions between kids and the adults that support them. We’re exploring one element at a time through the lens of a DREAMer and their experience.

Our story this time takes us to Bennington, Vermont to take a peek at a group of mentors and mentees who Share Power. According to Search Institute, a youth would understand that their adult was sharing power with them when:

  • They are treated with respect.

  • They are taken seriously and treated fairly.

  • They are involved in decisions that impact them.

  • They are included in goal-setting, problem-solving, and goal-attainment activities.

  • They are offered opportunities to take the lead in the relationship.

Kaylyn, a DREAM mentor in the summer, assists Channing with the repair of a garden box.

Starting in the summer, Bennington mentees who live in the Willowbrook and Applegate communities participate in our Summer Enrichment program. As part of the program, they join forces with mentors to cultivate a garden. The past two summers both communities received financial support from the Bennington Garden Club and DREAM and the sharing of power and planning began. In consultation with summer mentors, the kids planned their garden to grow vegetables they were curious to try or already enjoyed eating. Not only did they plan the contents of the garden, but they worked with community members and mentors to decide on the location of the garden, secure materials to build the garden boxes, and construct the raised beds they designed. All summer long, DREAM mentees and their mentors tend to their veggies while engaging in conversation and formulating recipes for snacks and meals that would include their harvest. Healthy concoctions were encouraged and deeper talks took place about what makes a food choice good for a body to grow and how to create and sustain positive habits in a daily diet.

The result of the activities surrounding the garden project in the summer was immense. DREAM mentees gained knowledge and perspective about their food choices and received autonomy to put their new understanding to use. The project as a whole is a tremendous example of Sharing Power and each individual element of the project generated mini-moments with multiple benefits. Mentees and mentors strengthened their relationship and trust in each other through the shared experience of setting a goal and working together to achieve that goal. Mentees were included in decisions regarding the project and received additional responsibility to care for their garden and solve problems when weather, pesky animals, and other environmental factors inevitably intervened.

Alex, a mentor coordinator during the school year with DREAM and Bennington College, collaborates with mentees Peyton and Jaylynne as they prepare their afterschool snack.

While the experience over the summer is rich, the volume of power shared with mentees continues to grow during the school year. DREAM’s Village Mentoring program, supported by students at Bennington College, reconvened in September. Each Friday, the mentors from Bennington College travel to Willowbrook and Applegate and meet with their mentees. A key component of their afterschool time together is snacks. The mentees shared their garden experience with their mentors and their newfound excitement for fruits and vegetables. While the mentors learned about the summer activities, they also worked together to clean up the gardens for the change of seasons. Additionally, mentors presented mentees with the opportunity to apply their knowledge of healthy snacking when they needed to supplement the garden with items from the store. Making snacks has become an activity each mentor does with their mentee (instead of mentors preparing snacks ahead of time). This activity has sparked deep connections and storytelling about each mentor's childhood snacks and afterschool time and the mentee’s current afterschool experiences. Now that most of the garden is dormant due to colder weather, the mentors shop for food supplies based on their understanding of what the mentees like to eat. Mentees appreciate the mentors when they arrive to make snacks and there are choices they prefer. The activities have allowed mentors and mentees to illustrate the strength of Sharing Power, as the characteristics and results are observed by DREAM staff at DREAM Fridays.

The result: the impact of Village Mentoring and Sharing Power is on display each Friday during snack time! Mentees feel valued and respected and understand they have a say in the direction of their relationship with their mentor. Mentors understand the significance of truly sharing their relationship with their mentee and are building lifelong skills and a support system for everyone.

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