My journey from mentee to mentor

I was standing on stage in front of a packed room at Cipriani with Debbie and Fidelia by my side. We had been invited there to tell our multi-generational story of mentoring as we accepted the Robin Hood Heroes Award on iMentor’s behalf.

At the start of my journey from mentee to mentor, I never could have imagined that all of these special moments were possible, or that it would have all started with a bag of books.

When I was paired with my mentor, Debbie, back in 2001, she knew I was an avid reader. At the time, she was an editor at Random House, and at our first in-person meeting, she brought me a stack of novels, including The Giver, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and more. My family owned an encyclopedia set, but buying novels was a luxury we couldn’t afford. So when Debbie brought that bag, I knew we were going to hit off.

As a teenager, I was sheltered and incredibly shy. I was a solid student, but I didn’t have a plan for what I was going to do after high school. Going to college had honestly never occurred to me. Neither one of my parents had attended college nor any of my six siblings. Getting a job seemed like the natural next step.

Debbie was the first person to ask me about my plans for college. Like me, she was the first in her family to get a college degree. And, like me, she didn’t have anyone to help her navigate the complex college-application process. Debbie was determined to make sure that I learned from her experience. She taught me about financial aid, read my essays, and helped me get into my dream school. Four years later, I graduated from my dream school—Howard University. Having Debbie as a mentor, confidante, and friend opened up a world of possibilities for me, and I made a promise to one day provide that same support to someone else.

When I met my mentee, Fidelia, it was uncanny how much she reminded me of myself — shy, soft-spoken, and unaware of her own potential. Fidelia’s family emigrated from Haiti in 2010 after the earthquake, and she was expected to help support her family financially by getting a job. I knew her parents had a similar worldview as my mother and father. It wasn’t intended to limit her talent. It was simply limited by experience. “Jobs hold no security – skills and knowledge do,” I told Fidelia. “With a college degree, your world of possibilities is boundless.”

What we did next was exactly what Debbie and I had done more than a decade earlier. We narrowed down schools, looked into financial aid, and worked on personal essays. Fidelia is now a in her second year at Borough of Manhattan Community College, and I am one proud mentor. Proud because Fidelia gets the importance of college. Proud because she gets the importance of investing in her future. She has already helped peers navigate the college admissions process, using the knowledge that she has acquired from our participation in the iMentor program. It warms my heart to see her able to stay the course toward success and also help others. I know that she’ll make an incredible mentor in a few years herself.

My journey from mentee to mentor has taught me that it takes only one person to shine a light on what’s possible, someone willing to listen, support, and encourage a young person to get excited about the future. Debbie, Fidelia, and I had the honor of accepting the Heroes Award on behalf of iMentor, but we know that there are thousands of mentors right now putting in the time and making the difference.

Keep up the good work, and we will too.

Click here to view a photo journal of Debbie, Julia, and Fidelia’s mentoring story.