Positive Youth Development is a comprehensive view that promotes  civic engagement among youth and prosocial values such as: self-determination, clear and positive identity and belief in the future. Strong Women, Strong Girls mentor embraces these PYD values, including, bonding and recognition for positive behavior to help our girls grow strong.  However,  I want to consider the possibility that mentors, who embark on this life changing journey, may not fully understand the impacts of mentoring…because I sure didn’t when I first started.

A year ago, as a mentor for Strong Women, Strong Girls, I did not understand the importance of having a mentor or even being one. My idea of mentoring was telling youth to stay in school while helping them engage in extracurricular activities….I did not know that it entailed so much more involvement on a deeper level and that I would be working towards nourishing an enriched person. I attended Fall training that year at Duquesne University where I was thoroughly trained in how to mentor, what it means to be a mentor, and the importance of mentoring disadvantaged girls.

One particular discussion that took place during that training really impacted me. We learned about the challenges the elementary girls face and why we, as mentors, are so important to them. The training brought up scenarios of young girls being bullied on their appearance and style of dress, which really hit home for me because as a young girl I experienced that. Body image and self-acceptance in a girl’s life is very important and is positively developed best when she is reminded by someone who cares for her. There are many cases of young girls and women who commit suicide or engage in negative behaviors and make negative life choices that affects their self-esteem causing them to decrease their chances of thriving in society. However, we as mentors CAN change that and increase their self-esteem by simply telling them “they are beautiful” or “hey, you are a super smart girl” because often times it is something that they may  never have heard or haven’t been told too often.

In my experience, I never had formal mentors, but I alway had people who supported me and saw my potential to be better than what statistics or my environment said how I would be. Despite having supportive people in my life I experienced low self-esteem and never saw myself as smart. I know now I could have never went through that phase of life without them. Often times during my educational journey I wanted to give up, but I was fortunate enough to have people that encourage me to feel like I mattered not only to them, but society as well.  Because of my support system, I pushed passed all barriers merely because I had people telling me I can…hence, now I do feel like I matter! Reflecting on this experience I can fully understood that mentoring mattered in my life.

20140411_175124The mission of SWSG is to foster cycles of mutual empowerment through mentoring, and this cycle became evident after training. I began mentoring and I remember a young girl who suffered from having low self-esteem and did not see her own beauty. She often would ask me what did I think about her hair, clothes, or was she doing this activity good.  I would make an appoint to tell her “your shirt looks nice today” or “your hair is very pretty” “you have a great smile” “you are really good at drawing.” Telling her that would make her light up and it made me feel great. She would then over time not look for me to say those things because she was beginning to believe them herself by not seeking that approval by me or other mentors anymore.

Strong Women Strong Girls college mentors make a difference in girl’s lives by doing more than just engaging in playful activities and telling them to stay in school, but by building positive relationships that enable girls to stay strong! Because of the support system I have in my life my ambition is greater and I intend to keep that cycle going.

Written by: Brittany Obey, Pittsburgh Social Work Fellow