Sarah is our featured mentor for the month of January. Sarah sat down with one of our Mentorship Program Coordinators, Kalista, to share a bit about herself and her involvement with the Urban Transitions Mentorship Program. Sarah is our Learning and Storytelling Manager, a role she began in March of 2018 after a year maternity leave. Her prior role was out in Morley and she also supported the development of the mentorship program before becoming a mentor in September 2018.
Kalista: Please tell me a bit about yourself.
Sarah: I’m from New Brunswick, I’m turning 38 in January…I think my favourite place in the world is my cottage out in New Brunswick. It’s on a river and we built it together as a family. My dad designed it on napkins and then we finally built it and we spent our summers out there, slowly building, first the outhouse, and then the cabin. Another thing about me is that I’m kind of an environmentalist. My dad was really outdoorsy, and I think that is because as a teen he had this mentor who was a really outdoorsy guy. My dad kind of attributes his – I don’t know – getting through some tough years as a youth, to being taken under the wing of this guy. I guess that’s what set our family on the course of being a nature family. So there’s me, my brother, and then my two younger sisters.
I went to university out East. I decided to go somewhere different than all my friends because I wanted to really see who I was on my own. I was pretty attached to my family so I decided to go 3 hours away from home to St. Francis Xavier University and it was awesome – not too close to home and not too far either. I studied Sociology and then when I graduated, I got an internship to go to Kenya .One of the most amazing things about that experience was that I got to work for a woman who decided to start her own organization because she had seen that most organizations in her community were being run by corrupt individuals and she didn’t want to be part of that any longer. Eventually I ended up in Calgary and now I’ve started a family here so it looks like Calgary’s home for good.
Sarah: I met the former Executive Director, Lindsay Mitchell, when I started studying with the Human Venture Leadership program in 2010. This was when Canada Bridges was changing over to be a youth-serving organization and hiring its first staff, which was Lindsay, part time. So I really got to see what she was learning and it really stood out as an organization that truly cared, was able to adapt to change, and respond in a way that seemed super helpful and welcomed in the community. I had been around the non-profit sector in Calgary and just thought, “Wow that would be a great place to work” and so I started volunteering with Canada Bridges and then when the organization had a job opening, I applied.
Kalista: What inspires you about your work with Canada Bridges?
Sarah: I would say it’s for sure the people that we get to work with and how we are able to take the time to really understand and get to know them and the communities they’re part of.
I love that we get to be learning so much with everything we do. We are supported to make sure that what we’re doing on the ground is useful and if it’s not, we change what we’re doing. We’re really trying to learn as we go. When you’re learning as you go, it means that you change as you go, and you change the organization, and you change the programs, and you change as a person. So I like that because I think if we’re working with people to change their communities and themselves then it means that we as staff have to be changing and learning and growing and as an organization we have to be doing that as well. It makes it a more shared human experience that gets away from being overly institutional. As a society, I don’t think we’ve figured out exactly how to structure not for profits, and be good and wise. What excites me most is that Canada Bridges is on the edge of trying to figure out what that might look like and it feels like really important learning. It can be challenging to explain and hard to fund but when you’re on the ground and working with people in the community it really makes sense to them, even if it doesn’t make sense to funders, it makes a lot of sense to us and to the people we work with.
Kalista: How come you got involved with the mentorship program?
Sarah: I got involved with the mentorship program because I was really frustrated seeing youth come to the city from the reserve – that’s such a challenging and brave thing to do – and I was frustrated that the process was so difficult. I appreciated that for me to go to university was difficult and to move towns is difficult and I’m not an Indigenous person. I’m not a racialized or minority person. So there’s not a lot of systemic discrimination against me that makes my life harder and still those moves and changes were hard. In seeing that youth were coming and not being successful, largely because of institutional or structural barriers, and that they could use some extra support through people, I thought that that was something that we could try to help with so I got involved.
Kalista: What is your connection like with Leeora?
Sarah: Oh gosh, Leeora (haha) I met her like probably when she was in Grade 9 or 10 in Morley and she was the first really friendly face that I met. A lot of the youth in Morley can be shy when you first meet them but Leeora was so friendly and smiley and she asked me, “What are you doing here? Who are you?” and she wasn’t shy. When I told her what we were up to she said, “I think that sounds really good, it’s good that you’re here.” So I would look forward to seeing her in the community when she would come to youth night. We’ve been connecting ever since.
Kalista: Have things changed since you began formally mentoring Leeora in September as part of our mentorship program? If so, how?
Sarah: I would say our connection is the same, Leeora’s really awesome, she’s easy to get to know, and fun to hang around with. I was so stoked when she asked to have me as a mentor. What I like about being in the program is that it created a bit of an invitation to help her get where she wants to go with her life. Before she asked me to be her mentor, I felt awkward to interfere with someone’s life and be all parenty or something like that. I think with the mentorship program it’s kind of like, “Hey! There are things that might be helpful for Leeora” and now she knows that she can ask me. That’s kind of my job as her mentor: to help her check things off of her list, like tasks to get organized in the city, so she can reach her goals. I’ve been checking in with her more regularly and we’ve talked about how can I help, like “Do you want me to remind you of things and check in?” and she said, “Yeah, reminders are great.” I feel more comfortable reaching out to her because we have this formalized program. Whereas I’d be happy to do it otherwise, but now I feel a more dedicated effort towards making sure Leeora is successful where she is at as a person.
Kalista: So you mentioned a couple strengths of Leeora’s, how else would you describe her? What potential do you see in her?
Sarah: I would describe Leeora as a very intelligent young woman who has a lot of confidence, or appears really confident even though she might not feel that sometimes. She has some really unique skills in getting to know people, like asking questions, making people feel comfortable and want to open up to her, and helping people to feel appreciated. She always asks questions about how I’m doing so she’s supportive to me and it’s not a one-way relationship. I think that’s something really special about her. She’s really interested in people and really wants to see them. I think she watches me grow and reflects that back to me so those are all really good important people skills that she has.
I think she has a lot to offer to other people who are moving to the city for the first time because she’s so determined. She can get jobs because she interviews really well. Those people skills and appearing confident, and representing herself well, are really good skills that I think will take her really far. She can really share with other people on how to reach their goals in the city, especially with getting jobs. She has great determination, even when she has setbacks, like everyone does when they move out for the first time and are trying to find places to live and how to pay rent. She’s so tough and resourceful and she doesn’t get discouraged. She just gets down to business and figures out her next move.
Kalista: What would you want to share with other mentors about your experiences in the program? What might be helpful for them to know?
Sarah: I had a lot of opinions on that before I was a mentor (haha). I would say a couple of things…timing is always hard, like scheduling. I think one thing that’s helped is when timing works out to just jump on the opportunity and make it work so you can meet up.
Another tip is to be patient with figuring out how the other person communicates and what methods to use. Like is it Facebook, or texting? And start to get to know the rhythm of the young leader you’re paired with. It’s a good accomplishment to get to the point where you know how they work so you can actually get to meeting up. Also, I think that the online, that texting and that checking in, however you do that, is super appreciated and valuable itself. Even if you’re not getting the chance to meet up that much to have the young person know that they have someone who cares for them in that way is really helpful so to keep doing that until you get to know one another more.
The other thing I find is that young people have long lists of things to do and figure out and sometimes it can be overwhelming as a mentor. Leeora has a lot of things she wants to figure out so the other day we made a to-do list that we worked on together. Now when she has new things she wants to work on, because Leeora is also a very ambitious person so she has a long to-do list, we can keep track of things. We add things to the list and check things off as we go. Maybe this method would be helpful for other people too.
Kalista: So you mentioned that you’ve been involved with the mentorship program from the beginning as a staff. What do you want to see happen with the mentorship program?
Sarah: I’d say I’m really happy with how it seems to be going. We started with a vision and tested what we thought might be helpful. It’s changed and been modified over time but like all Canada Bridges’ programs that learning has been incorporated. My hope is that it keeps going as long as it’s useful and I really look forward to even more changes and more adaptation. I hope we find ways to make sure the youths’ voices are heard in the program.
I also can’t wait to see where the youth and mentors in the program go and take their lives because I think they’re really important leaders and that they’ll create other programs, or they’ll take over this one or modify it, and I just can’t wait because the world really needs that youth leadership and that youth voice to help us move forward. I can’t even imagine what they might dream up.
We’re thankful for Sarah’s enthusiasm for our mentorship program and the passion she has for supporting young people to make the changes in their lives and the world that they want to see. We hope that Sarah and Leeora continue to have a great mentoring relationship and friendship for many years to come!