Our next group outing will be Friday April 3, 2009 at the State Theatre in Red Bluff. Get ready to “see things you’ve never heard” with Sign Stage Theatre’s production of Dr. Doolittle. This will be our third year to attend a Sign Stage production, which will be amazingly offered in American Sign Language and spoken English. Last year we were treated to the delights and travails of James and the Giant Peach. In 2007 we kept up with the sly and cunning Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Archive for March, 2009
Latina Leadership is the newest endeavor of the Tehama County Mentoring Program. Ten 7th and 8th grade girls from Gerber School have been matched with 10 members of Lambda Theta Nu sorority at Chico State University. Each month, the girls from Gerber meet their mentors on the Chico State campus to learn about the college experience, make preparations for their own admittance to college and develop leadership skills which include self-esteem, cultural competency, etiquette and high school success.
Corning High School Grad Inspires Young Leaders
When Corning High Class of 2003 alum Jesse Eller speaks, the classic playground game “Rock Paper Scissors” becomes a powerful metaphor for college–and life–success.
Eller, now Associated Student Body President at CSU, Chico, presented opening remarks to 10 Gerber Elementary Students and their college mentors involved in the Latina Leadership project through the Tehama County Mentoring Program on February 13 at CSU Chico’s Bell Memorial Union. He is the son of John and Nan Eller and Donna and Jody Mendes, all of Corning. Eller will graduate CSU, Chico in May with a degree in Agriculture Business.
“Rocks are people,” Eller said, “Friends, family, mentors.” He stressed the importance of long term friendships and finding mentors to guide.
“Paper is education and is extremely important,” he added. Eller followed up describing his journey through education with a learning disability and coming up from being behind with reading and writing skills. “I had to apply myself,” he stated.
“Scissors are to cut out fears,” he continued, urging the students to “Step out of our comfort zones and really try something new.”
The Gerber Latina Leadership group really is trying something new: college. Mentored by Lambda Theta Nu sorority members, the 7th and 8th grade girls are getting comprehensive guidance to make decisions in high school that will lead to college admissions. The February meeting, the inaugural gathering of the group, included information about Educational Opportunity Program and Upward Bound. Students were also introduced to Collegeboard.com and goal setting.
Lambda Theta Nu is a national collegiate sorority with a mission to promote and foster Latina Leaders through educational and professional development, relationship building and community involvement. Corning resident and former city council woman Yvette Zuniga is an advisor.
On December 5, 2008, after two days of training in Los Angeles and a cross country flight from Washington DC, Suzanne Seesman arrived in Red Bluff to begin her year as an AmeriCorps*VISTA with the Tehama County Mentoring Program. Suzanne coordinates the Cross Age Mentoring Program and can be found at SERRF sites and high schools around the county helping meet the mentoring needs of students in our after school programs with the talents and compassion of high school students.
Following is an interview between Mentor Coordinator Melissa Mendonca and Suzanne:
Melissa: Ok, Let’s start with the most important—what’s your favorite music?
Suzanne: Oh! This question is a tough one. Like many people these days my tastes in music is eclectic.My favorite music right now changes depending on what I am doing.
In my car I like old soul or funk or something newer like “the gossip.” Music for road trips is a whole other mix c.d. story. I will tell you that these mix CDs usually have some “Queen”, “Misfits” and “Bikini Kill” tracks on them to keep my energy up.
While working, I like my Pandora station based on the electronic band “Air” (really steady smooth music with few distracting lyrics).
Some of my favorite bands right now that need to mention include “The Blow” and “Tracy and the Plastics”. This kind of music combines the spirit of a ‘dance party’ with the idea of a ‘study group’ and holds a really high place in my “all time favorites queue”
Melissa: Alright, but seriously, why did you choose Red Bluff and the Tehama County Mentoring Program as your VISTA site?
I was interested in checking out this region of California. However, I chose the organization more than the location. When I read the TCMP job description on the VISTA site it seemed to be a position that fit well with the skills I had and that would also give me a chance to learn a lot. And I was very interested in working with high school age mentors.
Providing young people with guidance and friendship seemed like a very effective way to build stronger communities and I wanted to become involved with that. I was very happy when you offered me the position.
As for the location, I simply lucked out. Tehama County is such a beautiful place to live and everyone I’ve met here has been very friendly.
Melissa: What’s your favorite thing about Tehama County so far?
Suzanne: Hmm…I think it is the general environment. I drive quite a bit as TCMP’s VISTA and, even in the rain, I am inspired by the landscape with it’s rows of olive, nut and fruit trees, fields of cows and goats and the mountainous skyline. The land around here is continuously inspiring.
When I think about this county as a whole the ideas of beauty and abundance come to mind. It is nice to be surrounded in that feeling during my year as a VISTA.
Melissa: What do you hope to see in California before your VISTA year is finished?
Suzanne: I tend to over plan when it comes to visiting new places. So, I have tried to avoid thinking about this question too much! I want to see the Redwoods for sure and this summer I will definitely try to make it to the beach of the North Coast.
Other than that, I think I will relax and do what I have time to do. So far, I’ve had fun snowshoeing on Mt. Lassen visiting friends in San Francisco, drinking coffee in Chico and hanging out near the capital in Sacramento.
I’m going to San Francisco again and I think I’ll take side trip to see a bit of the Napa Valley. I would love to make it to any of the festivals: garlic, strawberry, asparagus or artichoke.
I am also psyched for the “Round Up” right here in Red Bluff. It will be this cowgirl’s first Rodeo.
Melissa: Tell us about your hometown. Where did you grow up?
Suzanne: I’ve only started to appreciate my hometown as an adult. I grew up in Maryland in the suburbs outside of Washington D.C. I lived in a town called Gaithersburg. Growing up, I enjoyed where I lived but I didn’t see it as special or unique at all and as a teenager I thought that the suburbs in general were “kind of lame”. In high school my friends and I took every opportunity we had to hop the metro into the city.
In hindsight though, I realize that I was really lucky to have grown up in such an interesting place. Aside from it’s close proximity to a great city, Montgomery County has a lot to offer. As a kid I took walks and bike rides with my family along the banks of the Potomac River and trips to Great Falls and Sugar Loaf Mountain.
At school we took trips to the Smithsonian Museums and the Kennedy Center and when I started working, as a teenager, I formed friendships with co-workers from all over the country and the world. The suburban area outside of DC is actually a really interesting and fun place to grow up. Living there taught me that the world is simultaneously big and small connected to history and on the verge of making history. I can appreciate this about it now that I have been away.
Melissa: How was college? What did you study?
Suzanne: College was great! I went to school at Ohio University in Athens, where I met some of my favorite people. I studied two things in college. I studied Southeast Asian Studies and Fine Arts.
College is where I began to love school. I learned to take charge of my own education and use it to develop my interests. It was difficult though too. I have an interest in many things and it was easy to spread myself thin academically. Learning balance was the main lesson of college for me. Ultimately my education at Ohio University gave me the resources to continue learning for the rest of my life!
Melissa: What does it mean to you to be a VISTA?
Suzanne: VISTA stands for Volunteer in Service to America and I do feel like I am a small part of a large effort working toward the future of this country. But, I think that the idea of VISTA reaches well beyond service to America.
VISTA is about learning how to be a part of your community wherever you go.
My experience with clubs and activist groups in college left me thinking that there is a lot more lofty and idealistic talk out there regarding community and community building than there is action.
The VISTA program helps you learn what being part of a community is all about by demanding that you use your skills wherever you are to support volunteers in the community.
VISTA makes practical work of the usually idealistic notion of community building.
I’m learning a lot as a VISTA and having a great time.
Melissa: What can a high school student expect if they sign up to be a Cross Age Mentor?
Suzanne: Excellent question! A high school student looking to mentor can expect to be challenged and to have fun. A mentor is a role model a friend and a tutor wrapped into one. The main objective for any mentor is to figure out how to meet their mentees needs. You ask yourself “Does my mentee need help with school work, social skills, emotional development or some combination of these?” Then you ask yourself “What skills and abilities do I have as a mentor to meet these needs?” Once you answer these questions you get to work.
The truth of the matter is we all need help developing as people in this world and as mentors we all have something to give. For high school mentors the situation is not that different.
I think, high school mentors can be great mentors because they remember what it is like to go through grade school which most of us, who are older, do not remember well. So, in this respect Cross- Age mentors are in a unique position to figure out how to help their mentees be successful. And in my experience so far that is exactly what they do. They help their grade school mentees succeed.
For 30 year old mentor Miguel Garnica, mentoring has become a lesson in the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” For his 10 year old mentee, Javi, it’s been a lesson in “Hard work pays off.” The two, matched in September 2006, have been collaborating to improve Javi’s grades and develop a support system he can rely on. They’ve also been a having a lot of fun. If you ask them about their meetings, there always seems to be mention of a burger, burrito or milkshake!
One of the first things Miguel did when he met Javi was to shore up his resources. That meant getting to know important people in Javi’s family and life. “It’s great to talk to his teacher, his principal and the mentor coordinator,” says Miguel. As a case manager at the Corning Family Resource Center, Miguel has also been able to connect Javi to program resources in the community, including Family Fun Nights at the center. “We communicate with the village surrounding Javi.”
Miguel has nurtured Javi’s interest in the Titanic, something Javi says he was extremely interested in “for about two years”, but he’s also made sure Javi’s grades haven’t sunk like the famous ship. “When I wasn’t getting good grades, he helped me and I improved,” Javi says of Miguel. “Instead of doing fun stuff we read and then I improved. It wasn’t fun for me, but I improved.”
When asked how that improvement felt, Javi says, “I felt good getting good grades. I get a good feeling knowing I’m not behind. Right now I’m reading thick books instead of thin.”
But it’s not just English, Miguel is helping Javi with. They’re also working on Javi’s Spanish. Miguel related a simple but embarrassing mistake Javi made referring out loud to a woman at the Family Resource Center as an ‘old lady’ in Spanish. “I mostly know English instead of Spanish,” says Javi. “For two weeks he (Miguel) only talked to me in Spanish. It was torture! I can understand it, but I couldn’t really talk it.” Javi then went on to speak extremely quickly in Spanish to prove that in this area, too, he has made improvements.
Miguel has become quite popular at Javi’s school, with boys flocking to him asking if he’ll mentor them as well. He and Javi have become spokespeople for the Tehama County Mentoring Program on campus, as well as familiar faces on program brochures and billboards. The attention is well deserved for, as Javi puts it, “He always works hard. He’s someone I can look up to.”
When mentor Maureen Greer thinks back to the day she met her mentee, Kelen, in 2004 she remembers a radiant smile on Kelen’s face. To which Kelen replies, “Was I actually smiling back then? I was so depressed.”
Since then, both Kelen and Maureen have had plenty of opportunities to smile as one of the longest running matches in the Tehama County Mentoring Program. Both say that one of the greatest things about their relationship has been the chance to do things that they never would have done without the benefit of knowing each other. “I introduced her to animals!” says Kelen, “Now she wants a dog!” With that, it’s Maureen’s turn to smile. She’s still not likely to own a dog, but she has opened up to the concept of spending more time around them. To nurture Kelen’s interest in animals, Maureen signed them both up to volunteer at the animal shelter as well as a wildlife rehabilitation center.
The two have also explored local theatre and their local community. They laugh about the day early on in their relationship when they were driving to a Renaissance Faire. “We were taking the scenic route” says Maureen. “We were lost!” interjects Kelen. “That’s why now I pay more attention where we are.”
“Kelen and I both have our little quirks” says Maureen, “And there’s room for respecting them. One of the things I admire about Kelen is that she is willing to learn.”
Kelen admits that her mentoring relationship has helped her to not act out in anger any more. But she also admits that she didn’t immediately take to her mentoring relationship. The secret, she relays, is that, “We opened up. Well, I opened up. I remember the first couple of days (with Maureen) I didn’t even talk.”
For Maureen’s part, getting through those initial visits wasn’t that difficult. “I take the concept of commitment very seriously,” she says. “My original commitment was for a year. By the end of the year I realized that this kid was going to be in my life for life. That was a surprise.” Maureen became a mentor because she has a strong inclination towards community service and wanted to do something in youth development.
Now though, it seems Maureen’s a mentor simply because, “Kelen’s fun. She’s great company.”
With that, Kelen’s face lights up and you can see her scheming to get Maureen to own a dog.