Treading into unknown territory can be daunting, and the opportunity to join this group of fellows with FLIA was just that. My task was to create a program for YSS where youth who had been through extreme hardship (homelessness, abuse, neglect, etc.) would be paired with volunteer mentors.
Our name and mission were simple: Youth Standing Strong (YSS). Community-Based Mentoring. Providing a mentor for every child who needs or wants one.
But while the mission was simple, I found myself without much direction when I began the fellowship. As I learned more, I learned that I would be working to create a new mentoring program nearly from scratch. Community-based mentoring was to be based on YSS’ existing mentoring program, which is school-based. The main difference is that school-based mentors are restricted to school grounds, while community-based mentors are encouraged to bring their mentees out into the community (specifically in Ames, IA and the surrounding area) while building their relationships.
People around me assured me that I would never have to “reinvent the wheel”, but while the end goal was clear, my path to get there was hazy.
The way I saw it, I had a map that marked where I was and where I wanted to go, but there was no route in between the two points. The route became more clear as I trekked on through my fellowship and gained more information bit by bit.
Turns out, the theoretical route was unpaved, mountainous, and winding.
Despite this, I managed a number of triumphs. I created a step-by-step process that will ensure the project will run smoothly after my fellowship ends; I trail-blazed the necessary route. I also made some friends along the way, including a number of connections that will help me in the future professionally. These connections were both from YSS and FLIA staff as well as among other fellows in my cohort.
Being able to rocket ahead toward my career goals at record speed was an amazing thing that this fellowship did for me.
I gained a lot of experience that I don’t think I could have done in such a short of time with any other position. I can confidently say that I’m skilled in program management, budgeting, grant writing, and program evaluation.
My success was not without struggle, however. Those mountains I mentioned were really, really tall ones. Early on in my tenure at YSS, a major flood struck Ames that damaged a number of residential homes and many businesses - including YSS Headquarters and Rosedale Shelter, where my project was based. Because of the damage, my project slowed to a near halt. It was a tough hurdle, but we made it through to the other side.
In the face of these struggles, my project and I have made an impact in YSS as an organization.
YSS is now more interconnected than ever.
Departments that hardly communicated with each other now have an opportunity to talk, collaborate, and make change together. And that opportunity, this program, has a complete set of guidelines - from recruitment to when mentor and mentee must say goodbye.
My fellowship has also had an impact on the Story County community. Community members have already committed to donating their time and energy into this program - and it hasn’t even officially begun yet.
Overall, the fellowship was one of the best opportunities I’ve ever received. I’ve been allowed to succeed and to struggle, to be creative, to make new friends and connections, and to make myself more prepared for my future as someone doing social good. I’m excited to see what my future holds.