A Special Kind of Mentor

My name is Taylor Tibbs and I am an English/French graduate of Seattle University. As a student of color in a predominately white Jesuit university that emphasized service, I developed my own value for service and began volunteering and mentoring other students of color and learning about leadership training. A staff person in the University’s Office of Multi-Cultural Affairs told me about an AmeriCorps opportunity at the Northwest Leadership Foundation in Tacoma, working with high school students through their Urban Leaders in Training program. After graduation I applied for the position and was accepted.

Every day I see myself in the students I mentor in the Metropolitan Development Council – Hope College Bound program at Lincoln High School, where I work with 50 teens in our classrooms and individually. We support them in their goal of being successful in a high school and college environment, by helping them think critically about and better understanding themselves, their community, and environment, while also learning life and academic skills. We’re doing a unit on poverty now, teaching them how to look at and interact in their world differently. I know our work on these subjects and developing a lens to talk about it is so important, because I’ve been through most of the struggles that they’re having, like coming from a single parent home, being oblivious to my world, and unaware what it really meant to go to college, become a true scholar, and rise above my circumstances.

Every day I commute over an hour to my program and can’t wait to get there. During the holiday break I got restless and wanted to be with the kids, doing something useful and listening to them really discuss issues in the classroom related to poverty and social justice. I learn right along with the kids, about patience, compassion, and other life skills. It’s funny that teenagers who are usually self-centered can teach you about real compassion, but it’s true.

It takes a special kind of person to be a mentor. You don’t always get thanked, so you have to reflect on what you’ve done at the end of the day and be satisfied with yourself. And you can’t always tackle any issue a kid has. Sometimes you have to chip away at it slowly to really support a student. 

Mentorship is not friendship. It’s okay to be uncomfortable for a moment when you tell them the truth they may not want to hear. I’m there to mentor, encourage side by side, and coach them from the background, while I’m being honest and developing trust through consistency and keeping my word. They depend on me and I can’t forget that.

When I have a bad day, I just have to take it in stride, pick my battles, and go back the next day, still caring and treating them with respect. Learning how to do this successfully is an important life skill for me, as well as being a model for the teens. I’m grateful for this AmeriCorps and mentoring opportunity to learn and grow.

My goal is to be the best person I can be, so that I can dedicate the best version of myself to the people I serve. Right now 75% of the seniors I am working with have been accepted to a higher education school, and we still have half a year left to get the other 25% accepted. I’m proud of what I’m doing to help these teens be their best selves, and it’s preparing me for a career in youth development, leadership and service. The worst failure on our part would be to not provide young people with every opportunity to choose success in life and school.

I’ll be a mentor all my life, formally or informally, because the people in my life – employers, co-workers, friends, and children – will always be watching and looking for good examples. It’s a wonderful experience for the right person.