Meet our VISTA, Suzanne Seesman!

suzanne-002On 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.

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