Cycle of Inspiration: A Tale of Two Mentors

“Here’s an idea. I can take Dulce on the Rails-to-Trails path to the silos—that would be a great subject for a photo,” Merrilie tells Jazmine (“Jaz”).  Both women are mentors, and they are discussing an exciting photography-and-poetry project their mentees—Dulce (10 years old) and ‘Lai (8 years old)—are enjoying.

Merrilie Ford (left), Jazmine Gibson, Dulce Galvez Perez, Lai’Aurii Brice.

Dulce and ‘Lai are benefitting from the guidance of two individuals who have known each other for a long time. And under very interesting circumstances. You see, 12 years ago Merrilie (now an 80-year-old Long & Foster real estate agent who paints her nails two shades of blue) became Jaz’s mentor. Now 24, Jaz—who works at Talbot Mentors—has had ‘Lai under her wing for a year and a half.

The girls draw pictures while their mentors talk with me about their ever-widening mentoring experiences.

“Do you still consider yourself Jaz’s mentor?” I ask Merrilie.

“A little bit,” she says, “though she teaches me as much as I teach her.”

What I see are two equals, two mentors devoted to widening the horizons of two girls who clearly revel in their attention.

Merrilie and Jaz banter like best friends, finishing each other’s sentences, validating ideas, and smiling a lot. Each never seems to miss a chance to extol the other’s virtues.

What has Jaz learned from Miss Merrilie? Are there things she picked up that now inform her own style of mentoring?

“Patience,” she offers.

“That’s interesting,” Merrilie adds. “I don’t consider that my strong suit. It’s nice to know that I am seen as someone who exercises patience!”

“Kindness. . .how to be a good listener,” Jaz continues.

Merrilie jumps in: “Jaz is a good listener. On a bus ride to New York City, many years ago, we talked—and listened—for hours.  When we drove to D.C. on art trips we never turned on the radio. We had conversations.”

Steering the conversation to the nuts and bolts of mentoring, Jaz notes that the crux of it revolves not around grand excursions to D.C. or New York but rather on the “just being together, in the moment,” she says. “When I was a young mentee, we would walk Miss Merrilie’s dog. I loved that. I also remember a trip to the post office, where I got to go behind the scenes.” Fast forward to the present: “One day with ‘Lai, I started to sing, something that is not my strong suit!” ‘Lai, marvelously unfiltered, started to laugh at her, but Jaz wouldn’t stop singing—“poorly”—until she herself succumbed to giggles. That was a moment.

It’s collections of small moments—between adult and child—that powers mentoring.

Jaz joined Talbot Mentors in 2015 as an AmeriCorps service volunteer. Today, in her staff role as Match Support Specialist, she screens mentor and mentee applicants, helps with mentor training, makes match decisions (she calls it “initiating friendships”), and supports the relationships along the way. She and her colleagues on the TM team are available to help the volunteers to become stronger mentors.

“Being a matchmaker,” Jaz says, “involves looking at personality traits, interests, and location.” Let me add that it also hinges on having a great big heart and a passion for helping others. Indeed, being “part of the solution” seems to be in Jaz’s genes. She is a natural-born giver. In order to receive her high school diploma, for example, she had to complete 75 hours of community service; she graduated with more than 700 hours to her credit.

Merrilie—a former Talbot Mentors board member—and Jaz star in a 12-minute “See Our Story” video that can be seen on the TM Facebook page and YouTube. Careful viewers will note something very fun and endearing as they watch. Spoiler: It’s the footwear.

“I knew Jaz had sparkly tennis shoes—she actually wore them with her prom dress. When I found a pair at St. Vincent de Paul, I bought them immediately!  ‘Why not wear them for the video?’ I said to Jaz.

Among the challenges Jaz has faced on the job, perhaps none has been more intimidating than matching Merrilie with a mentee. Jaz recalls, “I felt that as your mentee, pairing you with a mentee was. . .”

“I guess you wanted to please me,” Merrilie breaks in.”

The all-grown-up mentee ended up making quite a match. It’s only several weeks into Dulce and Merrilie’s mentor/mentee relationship. It’s amazing how fast a bond can form. Getting together one or more times a week, they have thus far taken advantage of local cultural offerings—including a Friday night gallery walk through Easton followed by a stroll through the Tidewater Inn, and an Earth Day art project at the Academy Art Museum. Add to that the photography-and-poetry project, a six-week affair with mentors and mentees getting together once a week. Each mentee was given two disposable cameras and a “scavenger hunt” list of things to shoot, from family members to scenics. Beyond the list, the kids could photograph whatever they like. Merrilie and Jaz let the girls lead the way, offering suggestions gently.

What made Merrilie jump into a mentoring position again? It’s simple. “Mentoring has enriched my life.” In addition, after her tenure on the Talbot Mentors board ended, she “missed everyone—the staff, the mentors, the kids.” Plus there’s Jaz’s role as a mentor herself. Merrilie saw a new way of enjoying what she and Jaz had successfully experienced through the years. (Not surprisingly, with what can be called “mentor’s pride,” she relishes seeing Jaz in her new roles as TM staff member and mentor.)

Dulce joins us at the table. “What’s it like having a mentor?” I ask her.

“It’s good. It’s really good. Miss Merrilie takes me to new places. We do projects. We have fun.”

Dulce goes on to say that Merrilie is “kind, smart, helpful, beautiful, and nice.” (By the way, the name “Dulce” means “sweet” in Spanish, the girl’s first language.)

Merrilie sets up her dates with Dulce via texts to her mom. “I write in English and it automatically gets translated into Spanish,” she says. Yet tech prowess, sparkly tennis shoes, and blue nails aside, Merrilie is a smidge old-fashioned. For one, she’s not happy that today’s kids aren’t taught cursive writing and plans to teach Dulce how to write a few things in cursive, including her name. Dulce is game. And she suggests that Dulce could teach her some Spanish. “Maybe we can work that out,” she tells the child.

The Talbot Mentors photography-and poetry project is drawing to a close. The pictures taken by the kids will be showcased at Trippe-Hilderbrandt Gallery in Easton—the opening is June 1 at 5 p.m. In the meanwhile, if you see a child taking photographs with a disposable camera, you just might be seeing Talbot Mentors in action.

The conclusion of the project, however, will not see the end of the Merrilie/Jaz/‘Lai/Dulce quartet.  They will plan get-togethers on their own and also take advantage of Talbot Mentors–generated programs and events.

Says Jaz, “Dulce and ‘Lai are starting their own friendship. I really like it when we all get together because I get to spend time with my mentor as well. Plus it is so nice for ‘Lai to see that I have a mentor too and to understand what our relationship can become.”

This time as a mentor, Merrilie gets to enjoy Jaz’s support, confident that “Jaz always has my back. We share a wealth of past experiences, and now there are her mentoring and staff skills. Who could have predicted that this is where we would be a dozen years after we met?

. . .it’s always good to be with her.”

If you are interested in learning more about becoming a mentor or would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to Talbot Mentors, please visit www.talbotmentors.org or call the main office at 410-770-5999.

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