• Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles exploring mentorship programs in Norman.
Mentorships can be the turning point in a young person’s life. For Alania Elliot, that’s exactly what her mentorship was.
It was the beginning of Elliot’s senior year in 2014, and she needed somewhere to live. She was approved to join Bridges of Norman, which allows eligible Norman students to live in one of their 20 one-bedroom apartments until they graduate high school. Residents can remain in the program until they are 21 years old if they are continue their education.
After moving into her apartment, she was partnered with her mentor, Kendra Augustine. She said she was shown three different individuals, but she knew Augustine was her match.
Augustine said she has always had a passion for working with teenagers, and wanted to continue in anyway she could after teaching high school. She worked at the YMCA and worked and volunteered with Bridges in 2013. That is where she heard about mentoring.
Elliot and Augustine met at the student center for lunch and they hit it off from there. The mentorship itself lasted a year, but even after graduation they haven’t broken contact.
“She’s always been there. We have never grown apart,” Elliot said. “We could go for months on end at some points not talking and she’ll reach out and it’s like we never separated.”
Bianca Gordon, director of career coaching for Bridges of Norman, said mentorships at Bridges begin with thinking about what the mentors’ personality is like and what their life experience is. Mentors go through an application process and a background check. Students complete a career coaching application that shows them what their interests are.
“The specifics on mentoring for people who are at risk are great, especially when you think about how past experiences could effect the way that they function right now,” Gordon said.
At Bridges, she said, they found mentoring helps with school attendance and participation in extra curricular activities. Mentored students are more likely to graduate high school and are more likely to attend college, she said. Students that live at Bridges are paired with mentors and tutors, and are given job shadowing opportunities.
Having someone there for her all of the time wasn’t something Elliot was used to. Elliot is now married and has a newborn baby. She said it’s been a blessing to have someone watch her go from where she was to where she is now.
“For a while there I didn’t really have a support system. I didn’t really have anyone to talk to about my frustrations, with the situation I was going through, and Kendra came along and she was outside of this big black box that I was stuck in. She kind of just helped me,” Elliot said.
Augustine said she can’t take credit for everything Elliot has accomplished, but she does feel like she helped by being a stable force in the relationship to show Elliot that stability and consistency is normal. She said she is incredibly proud of Elliot.
“Not that I came and had some magical words for her, because she literally has done all of this on her own,” Augustine said.
Elliot said Augustine is an amazing, good-hearted person who really made a difference in her life. She said it’s important for people to feel like they have someone in their corner, because that could be the difference in them changing the direction of their life.
“Having that outside person, that different point of view just so you know there are other options in life, you don’t have to go down the path that you are used to,” Elliot said. “Having that something that is different, but also constant, it just helps you realize there’s more to life than what you are currently going through.”
Mentorships are just like any relationship, Augustine said, and time has to be set aside and made a priority. She said her time never felt pulled. She just kept her normal life going and pulled Elliot into it.
“Don’t make it so hard. It doesn’t have to be 24 hours a week. It doesn’t even have to be five days a week. It can be a text, a phone call, an email, run by the school and take them to lunch,” Augustine said. “It doesn’t have to be a huge effort, it just has to be consistent.”
Bridges is a partner of Mentor Norman, an initiative that aims to inform about mentor needs and change mindsets. Mentor Norman has more than 550 children waiting to be matched with mentors at a variety of organizations. Megan Sanders, one of the individuals behind Mentor Norman, said there’s a need for a significant amount of help, and being a mentor is something anyone can do.
“Bridges is unique in that you are working with students that are on their own. They may have guardians in their life or even family, but they are basically living on their own,” Sanders said. “You are definitely spending a lot of time on life skills and preparing them for the next phase in life.”
Mentor Norman is partnered with Big Brother Big Sisters of Oklahoma, Bridges of Norman, Center for Children and Families, Community After School Program, Loveworks Leadership Inc., Norman Public Schools and Court Appointed Special Advocates for children. These organizations assess the need they have for mentors and share that need with Mentor Norman who spreads the word.
For those interested in finding a mentor position through Mentor Norman, visit unitedwaynorman.org/mentornorman. For a mentorship through Bridges specifically, call 405-579-9280 and ask for Bianca Gordon.