Friday the 14th of April marked my three months’ anniversary in the United States. Coincidentally, it also marked the end of the BroadFutures winter program. Participants had gone through three months of holistic training, mentorship and transitional work experiences. It was a day of celebration, parents and employers joined the staff at Broadfutures to congratulate the program participants on their success. Personally, it was also a special day because as a mentor to some of the program participants who were celebrating the successful completion of the program, I felt a sense of accomplishment and joy for having contributed to their journey in the program. Going through my first program provided insights on the impact of mentoring for individuals with disabilities during their transitions. It also helped me identify areas where I could contribute to the program as BroadFutures prepares for scaling up the model.
I did not have the ideal ‘soft landing’ into the program. I missed the first two weeks of the winter program where participants went through work readiness training due to the orientation and training that I was attending at Atlas Corps. The week I started at BroadFutures is the same week that participants of the program referred to as ‘interns’ started their paid internships at different organizations partnering with BroadFutures. One of the core components of the model is mentorship. The first week that interns enter the workplace demands a high touch approach between the mentors and their mentees. With still a lot to learn about the model, profiles of the four interns assigned to me as mentees, and everything else that was happening around me as I was trying to settle in Washington, DC. I still had to be there to provide support to my mentees as they began their journeys in the workplace. Naturally, I felt a bit anxious and overwhelmed. Fortunately, there was no time to dwell on those feelings. I had to get to work.
The program is set up in a way that at the beginning, interns develop personal goals for themselves in conjunction with their mentor and ADHD coach. The important strategies and interventions that foster success for the set goals are also developed. As a mentor, part of my role is to help the mentees uphold the provided structure in their everyday activities both in and outside the workplace. Since I had just joined, I scheduled some time to meet with my mentees individually. I found this empowering because I got to connect with them and build rapport through sharing my fears and limitations, real or perceived. I stressed my willingness to travel the journey with them and become their ally throughout the internship. As I listened to their hopes and fears, I realized this was a positive step towards building a lasting connection and trust. Ultimately, I got a commitment from each one of them that they will work hard to achieve their personal goals for the program. With that also came the ‘license’ to hold them accountable to their commitments all the time.
One important lesson that I learned earlier during my quest to understand the mentor role is to never lower the expectations for my mentees; rather I should always keep the bar high, knowing they can accomplish the goals that they set to achieve. This lesson helped me to retain objectivity throughout the program. I appreciated the fact that LD/ADHD is part of who my mentees are, but not the sum of who they are, therefore, I never allowed myself to set the bar low. I was confident that by leveraging their strengths and using identified strategies to overcome the difficulties that learning disabilities present they would be successful in the workplace. During instances where some strategies were not working, instead of lowering the bar, we would come up with alternative strategies. We celebrated big and small victories, and by the same token identified areas of improvement, accountability remained critical.
For me, the journey over the past three months has been the reward because, like in any functional mentorship relationship, I grew with my mentees. In addition to working on building executive function skills, we also focused on lifestyle issues that focused on creating stability and success in all areas of life. We worked on everyday issues like diet, sleep habits, exercise, and other aspects of self-care. I helped my mentees to discover which strategies were most useful and efficient, and in so doing, I learned as well.
Ultimately, over the course of eleven weeks, my mentees started showing overall improvements in the BroadFutures’s program goal areas of preparedness and knowledge of the professional workforce, self-confidence in general and in the workplace, self-awareness and the ability to self-advocate, as well as the capacity to handle stress and anxiety. It was refreshing watching them present on the final day of the program. The self-awareness that each one of them demonstrated as they highlighted their biggest takeaway from the program was a testament to how far they had come. My hope is that the grit that they showed throughout the winter program may become a hallmark of their lives. The program is designed to be a springboard for young adults in their transition. The ‘soft’ skills learned on the job experience, through training and mentorship are a lifetime learning which would help the participants to the program to live independent, successful lives as adults.
As for me, if the past three months are anything to go by, then the next nine months at BroadFutures promise to be rewarding. The learning continues. Already, I have witnessed first-hand the power of an effective mentoring program for positive youth development. Additionally, being integrally involved as a mentor for the Winter Program has helped me identify areas where I can make a difference on the operations side of the program, least of which: streamlining systems and processes.