“Patience is a fabulously happy kid,” Colleen Fedor says. “A great girl. Very good student. Didn’t miss a single day of middle school.”
Those might be the words of a proud parent speaking about her child but not in this case. Fedor, the executive director of the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania, is talking about a young girl who happens to be her mentee.
Matched six years ago by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh when Patience was in sixth grade, the pair have been together ever since. At first, Fedor and Patience met weekly for an hour or so, just talking, exploring their relationship, discussing careers. Over the years, their relationship grew to include outdoor walks, eating ice balls, working on Patience’s high school application. “Patience has a love of science,” Fedor says, “but she also has concerns about college. So our next job is to go for some visits. Robert Morris. Duquesne.
“What I really do,” she adds, “is show Patience the individual attention we all need. Sometimes mentoring isn’t any more profound than that.”
That may be so, but the numbers are. Born in 1995, the Mentoring Partnership provides resources and best practices to some 150 area mentoring programs. Training 1,200 potential mentors annually, the Partnership effectively reaches some 27,000 kids.
“We want kids to be successful,” Fedor says. “We want quality kids to be at the center of each relationship. To do that, we help adults find what they have to give. Then we help them find kids who want to learn it.”
The Mentoring Partnership is celebrating 20 years of helping to make kids successful at the Magic of Mentoring gala on October 14th at Heinz Field. Getting special recognition this year are the many community leaders—Chip Burke and Dan Rooney, to name two—who have helped create and support the Mentoring Partnership. Also being honored? The long-term director, Fedor, who is tireless and passionate and cheerful in her leadership.
Damon Bethea, United Way mentoring projects director and a middle-school mentor, knows well the magic of mentoring. “Mentors share stories, help motivate students, and be a champion for kids who may not have many champions in their lives,” he says.
The champions start early. “At age nine,” Strong Women, Strong Girls Executive Director Sabrina Saunders says, “a girl’s self-esteem peaks. Our goal is to keep that and ambition high.”
Working out of a modest Sarah Street rowhouse, Saunders points out that changes in pre-adolescence can cause a girl’s self-esteem to plummet. Quickly, almost blindingly, girls can drop-out, become pregnant and fall prey to substance abuse. “If we can get ahead of the curve,” she says, “we can ensure that girls can stay on the path to their own success.”
Success is something that Strong Women, Strong Girls knows quite a bit about. Currently supervising some 50 professional mentors who help train 220 undergraduate college mentors who in turn mentor more than 600 third- through fifth-grade girls. Having partnerships with six area colleges on the one hand, and public and charter schools and community centers on the other; recruiting through parents, counselors, teachers, principals, and the girls themselves, SWSG targets girls who’ve been bullied, are abnormally shy, exhibit academic trouble, and so on.
Matched with college volunteers, the girls work a gender-based curriculum designed to raise self-esteem, build leadership, think critically and create community. Focusing on such role models as Michelle Obama, Jane Seymour (who founded the Open Hearts Foundation) and Benazir Bhutto, they study biographies, engage in character activities and create events.
“We recognize that girls are strong and ambitious,” Saunders says. “We also recognize that the world is not fair. So girls need to be given ample opportunity to excel. We want to encourage them.”
Encouraging other women is something that Joy Manufacturing’s Lindsay Farrell has been doing since she was an undergraduate. A graduate industrial engineer in inventory control and IT, she is a successful woman working in a male-dominated industry. “My experience has made me want to mentor young women,” she says. “Letting them know some of the challenges they face—and how to overcome them.”
Mentoring college women for Strong Women, Strong Girls, she’s helped undergraduates with real-world challenges such as fundraising events, career goals, resume writing and interviewing techniques, and non-verbal communication. “When a woman is young and coming into an organization, she doesn’t always recognize the pitfalls that can hurt her in the workplace. Or how to handle being the only woman in the room with 20 men. When my mentees tell me about situations like that, I always try to offer the right support. What I find rewarding is seeing the kind of growth that helps them achieve what they’re out to do—like the student who got a Fulbright scholarship to study wind energy in Europe.”