A Mentor’s Take: Two Boston Mentors Share Their Stories
SWSG Boston intern Zurich Deleon writes about her conversation with two of our mentor alumni.
At Strong Women, Strong Girls, we understand the importance of having meaningful relationships. Whether it’s with our family or friends, these bonds play a role in our own self-development. Recently I got the opportunity to discuss the impact of these connections through representation, role models, and experience with two of our past SWSG mentors Jahnavi Curlin and Helen Sharma. I asked them several questions about their own connections to mentorship to better understand it’s importance and what it mean’s in a young girl’s life.
Jahnavi is a recent Harvard graduate where she studied Neurobiology with a secondary field in Global Health/Health Policy. She also minored in French. In the future she will be working in health consulting in NYC and has further plans to attend medical school. Helen graduated from Northeastern University last year as an International Politics and Anthropology double major. She’ll continue to work in the nonprofit sector at Big Sister Association of Greater Boston. Both women have been mentors in SWSG for several years.
“How has being a SWSG mentor changed the way you think about role models?”
Jahnavi: Growing up, I was fortunate to passively find role models in my life — female members of my family, female authors, etc — but it wasn’t until college that I learned the importance of intentional mentors, like those in Strong Women, Strong Girls. SWSG has reinforced in me the essential nature of intentional role models as a means for effectively guiding mentees on their way.
What would you say has been most impactful from your experience as a mentor?
Helen: I’m incredibly grateful to have seen different layers of mentorship. We have staff teaching mentors and older mentors teaching newer mentors. I also got to see peer mentors teach the little girls. Being able to provide guidance and support to other mentors, and also advocate for a powerful and loving community for Northeastern, has been an invaluable experience. I get to say that I’ve been a part of all sides of mutual empowerment.
“What’s your opinion on representation?”
Jahnavi: I am proud that SWSG has made a concerted effort to have mentors be a reflection of the girls they serve. Having more women of color and having these conversations are both important.
“You’ve spent so much time with these young girls over the past few years, is there any moment you can share that maybe reminds you of your impact?”
Helen: Us mentors have this thing we call mission moments, kind of when everything just clicks into place and feels meaningful. We had this end of the year party during my third year. The girls were given two cookies and told to decorate them. One cookie for someone they thought was a strong woman and one for themselves. One of the girls made a cookie for me! I was so honored that she considered me a strong woman in her life.
“What would you say has been most meaningful from your experience working with the girls?”
Jahnavi: I think over the past four years I’ve been invigorated to see a tangible difference in the way girls view themselves as the years go by. The girls have so many more role models in the public who are a reflection of and a potential future for them. From Michelle Obama to Kamala Harris, girls are eager, excited, and feel capable to reach these womens’ expectations and higher. As a mentor, I can only hope for that spirit in my mentees.
“Based on your studies, have you been able to apply anything learned in the classroom to your role as a mentor?”
Helen: Anthropology is interesting theory. What it all comes down to is empathy like I’ve learned nothing more in my five years of study than empathy matters and works. Being able to connect with people and get in their shoes and see the world from their perspective is the quickest way to make a connection.
“I am a woman of color and I can understand that being a person of color often makes our experiences different than others. So, what did being a mentor, being a Harvard graduate, and being able to connect with these girls mean for you as a woman of color?”
Jahnavi: I think there are moments where girls have been able to identify with me because of our similar backgrounds and feel they can relate to me in a different way. Having a shared identity isn’t the only importance element of being a mentor, but it’s an entrance point to having that deepened connection and, hopefully, a more meaningful relationship Someone who looked like me 50 years ago wouldn’t even be in Harvard. Over time, being a student and working, you forget that it’s Harvard, it’s just your school but when you have a girl that looks just like you and from a similar background tell you ‘Oh YOU go to Harvard?! I want to go there too!’ It pulls the mask off your eyes and you realize you’re opening the gateway. If I can make that process easier for other girls, I have succeeded as a mentor.
“Lastly, if you could give a message to the 9-year-old you, what would you say?”
Helen: You’re doing everything right. You’re okay. It’s okay for you to be making mistakes. It’s so cool how much you are growing and how much you are learning so just lean into that.
Jahnavi: I would say, life will be even better than your wildest dreams which is saying something because your dreams are pretty wild! I would love to show the girls… how much they’ve changed, and how much they’ve accomplished.