Art Buddies: How Mentoring Changed Me

Today, I had originally planned to post a recipe for pretzel bites and beer cheese dip in honor of Oktoberfest, but when I checked my email and saw a message from the mentorship program I participated in last spring, in addition to the tragic deaths in Las Vegas, I decided that today, it is more important to share my Art Buddies experience.

Last fall, when I was feeling helpless and scared for our nation’s future (fears that have not gone unwarranted, given today’s political environment), I started looking for ways that I could contribute to a better tomorrow. I donated money to causes that were important to me, I worked on mindfulness to ensure I was interacting with those around me in a positive way, and finally, I donated my time to Art Buddies.

From the very moment I found out about Art Buddies, I was over-the-moon excited about the program. A weekly one-on-one mentoring program that focuses on creativity; what could be a better fit?

Since 1994, we’ve paired thousands of underprivileged children with thousands of creative adults. Art Buddies helps kids realize their creative potential, and discover that creativity can be a path to a successful future.

-An excerpt from the Art Buddies website.

And so, as soon they started accepting applications for mentors for the spring session, I submitted my information and was quickly approved to join the program.

Orientation

Every semester, a new set of Art Buddies in participating schools in the Twin Cities and their mentors meet every week for 6 – 7 weeks. During that time, we design and create a costume that reflects the Art Buddy’s personality. Whether it says something about their ambitions, their characteristics, or their interests, each costume is unique and special and allows the kids to truly shine their own light.

What struck me as special about this program is that each of the kids, often underprivileged in some way, gets one-on-one, undivided attention from their mentors. They learn that their creativity is unique to them, and that’s what makes them special. And they learn that creativity can lead to success… that a creative career pursuit rarely equates to the “starving artist” stereotype (which is often news to parents, too).

Every week, the day after I met with my art buddy, my coworkers would ask for the highlights… which often included my buddy saying the sweetest and/or funniest things. And often times, her kind and thoughtful comments would leave me speechless.

And over the 7 weeks that we spent together, I saw my buddy’s confidence grow tenfold, I saw her light up as she walked into that room every week, and I saw her open up and take pride in her accomplishments.

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I couldn’t help but to look back on my own life and begin to appreciate on a whole new level everything that my teachers and coaches and parents and grandparents did to mold me into who I am today. But not everyone is as lucky as I am. Some children don’t have parents that speak English… parents that can help them with homework, some children have disorders that aren’t getting the appropriate care and attention, some children don’t have any guidance or supervision at home, some children have families that can barely afford to eat… let alone any supplies to fuel their imagination. And while you can’t fix all of those problems, you can help make a difference.

“What can I do? I’m just one person.”

Often, when we feel frustrated with the world’s many many injustices, we ask “What can I do? I’m just one person.” But by giving up 1 hour of your time a week, you can mentor a child that desperately needs your time. They need your encouragement, they need your words of praise, they need someone to just listen to what they learned in school that day. No matter what kind of program you get involved in, what might first seem to be an insignificant hour once a week to you could be the whole world to one kid. You can literally change someone’s life. And that’s magic, don’t you think?

In the end, I didn’t feel quite so helpless. In addition to my newfound gratitude for the life I have been given, I also felt like I could make a difference in the lives of others. And that’s because I did.

Art Buddies

If you are in the Twin Cities, Art Buddies is still accepting applications for a few vacant slots for the fall session. You can apply here. And if spots fill up before you apply, you can always apply again for the spring session.

And if you’re not in the Twin Cities, a quick Google search can point you in the direction of the mentorship programs available in your area.

Have you participated in a mentorship program? Would you recommend it to others? Let me know and I’ll feature it in this post!

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