Mentors and mentees enrich each other’s lives: “The learning goes both ways.”
Rolling around on the ground pretending to be a ninja. Posing for pictures with R2-D2 at a ComiCon event. Decorating his water bottle with Pokemon stickers. These are things 28-year-old Mahat Abdullahi, an Airman of the Vermont National Guard, would not have imagined himself doing before meeting Owen, his 8-year-old mentee.
“My interest is always his interest,” says Mahat. “I learn from Owen. He’s helped me to be more fun and more creative.”
Mahat and Owen were matched as a mentor pair through Watershed Mentoring, a program of Franklin County Caring Communities that pairs adult mentors with school-age children with a goal of helping kids feel more confident academically and socially.
“Owen and Mahat started meeting at the end of the summer and it was an instant connection,” said Owen’s mother, Crystal Lampman. “They went fishing together and they came back with not a single fish and a broken fishing line. But they both had a great time.”
Spending time together, sharing interests, and being a consistent caring presence in a young person’s life is what mentoring is all about, she says. Crystal is the executive director of Franklin County Caring Communities and has witnessed the positive impact of mentoring as a professional for years, but now she is seeing it firsthand through her son’s experience.
“I can see Mahat’s influence on him. Owen was having a hard time communicating and figuring out how to be a good friend and that’s something Mahat has modeled for him,” Crystal said.
Mahat found out about Watershed Mentoring through his work as the Prevention Network Manager at United Way of Northwest Vermont. In this role, Mahat engages with partners across the region focused on substance misuse prevention, including youth mentoring programs.
“Having worked in prevention and knowing a little bit about the need for mentors, particularly in Franklin County and rural areas, I wanted to play a role in helping that community,” said Mahat, who lives in Barre and works in South Burlington.
At least once a week, Mahat makes the trip from his work in South Burlington to see Owen in Swanton before heading to St. Albans where he volunteers as a youth soccer coach.
“Having someone they can trust and rely on is a protective factor for kids. I believe we all have a responsibility to serve in those roles,” Mahat said. “Everyone has something to offer.”
Crystal said the current need for adult mentors is great and has increased since the pandemic. “Pre-COVID we had 28 matches and then COVID hit, and it became a struggle. Now we have 10 matches. Our goal is to get back up to 25,” Crystal said. “We have teens on our waiting list right now waiting for a mentor.”
Watershed Mentoring serves kids ages 5-18. Mentors are asked to meet with mentees at least once a week for at least one hour.
Asked what he likes about Mahat, Owen replied: “He’s friendly. We play together, go places together, get comics together.” What has he learned from Mahat? “He taught me to be nice,” says Owen.
Mahat insists the benefits of the mentor-mentee relationship are mutual: “The learning goes both ways. Respect, compassion, patience – there’s a lot of value that can be exchanged.”
To learn more about becoming a mentor, visit: https://www.fcccp.org/our-programs/mentoring