DeKALB – Two years ago, Anna Coates of DeKalb didn’t have a sister.
After hearing about Family Service Agency’s Youth Mentoring program from a friend, Coates decided to apply to become a mentor.
She was matched with 15-year-old Abby, and the two have been best friends, like sisters, ever since.
Youth Mentoring, previously known as Big Brothers Big Sisters, matches children ages 5 to 16 with adult mentors older than 18. Community-based mentors, like Coates, spend four or more hours a month with their match, for a minimum of one year. Mentors in the Lunch Buddies program visit their elementary or middle school student match during lunch period every other week during the course of the school year.
January is National Mentoring Month. FSA is always looking for more mentors, especially men. For more information about the program, call 815-758-8616 or visit www.fsadekalb.org.
Coates met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to discuss her role as a mentor and what she likes most about the program.
Milton: How did you hear about Youth Mentoring?
Coates: I heard about Youth Mentoring from a friend, Erin Tamms, community program director at FSA. I’ve been a mentor since November 2017. I was matched with my mentee, Abby, and I’m still her mentor. I love the program, I think it’s awesome and a great way to get connected with and give back to your community.
Milton: Do you have any siblings?
Coates: I just have a younger brother, but I’ve always thought it would be fun to have a sister. So I was so excited when I got matched with Abby. We have quite a bit in common, we both like the same music and the same activities.
Milton: What’s the one aspect of the program that you like the best?
Coates: I like being able to see Abby grow and succeed. When I first met her, she was shy and quiet. Now she’s more confident and talkative. She’s really grown and opened up. I also appreciate that FSA took the time to choose a match just for me. They did a great job at matching us together.
Milton: What are examples of activities you do together?
Coates: This summer, we made our own costumes and went to the Renaissance Faire. A very generous donor gave tickets to FSA to the Bears, and we went together to a game, which was a fun first for us both. We also like to hang out in the community. We went to Ollie’s for frozen custard and we’ve created our own Taste of DeKalb. We’re visiting all of the Chinese restaurants in DeKalb and rating which ones we like the best. It’s fun just being able to hang out and talk about stuff. Sometimes we just chill at my place and watch “The Office” or cook. It doesn’t have to be planned or an event, we really just like spending time together.
Milton: How would you describe your role as a mentor?
Coates: I think of myself as a big sister. I’m there to talk to, to listen. I’m not there to be a judge, I’m there to help her and give her advice if she wants it. I remember high school, all the drama, the boys, the friends. I hope to help her through all that and be there for her. I’m here to listen, even if that’s all I’m doing.
Milton: Would you have liked to have a mentor when you were her age?
Coates: I think I would have really enjoyed it. It’d be nice to have a person that I’m not related to go to for advice. It would have been nice to just hang out and ask questions to some who has been through similar struggles and is now looking back in hindsight.
Milton: What’s something you wouldn’t have done without a youth mentee?
Coates: We participated in Kids Can Cook!, a youth cooking competition through FSA to raise money for Youth Mentoring. It was fun to work together and work through this positive stressful situation. We experimented with recipes, we made pierogi, which is one of her family’s traditions. I was hoping she’d want to be involved, but she surprised me. She even said yes to be on the committee. She was the only youth on the committee. It was great seeing that growth and confidence. It’s great to see her face new things and make good choices.
Milton: What would you like readers of this article to know?
Coates: If you’re a parent and you’re reading this, think about having your child become a mentee. Maybe your child struggles to make friends or you want them to get out of their shell. You can be that advocate for them and sign them up. Also, if you’re interested in becoming a mentor, reach out to FSA and get the process started. There’s an interview process and background checks, and they make sure that for both the child and the adult, it’s a good match. It’s not too demanding, you just have to be a friend to a child, and give an hour or so if your time a week. It’s easy to do, for me I just set aside a night a week to hang, sometimes it’s only for an hour to grab a treat or sometimes we hang out for a couple of hours. If you think you don’t have time to, consider doing the lunch buddies but definitely reach out to FSA. It’s a great experience, and I love being a mentor.