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Commitment To Learning Keeps This Mentor Fired Up

PEAK Mentor Samantha Schafer loves learning. And she doesn’t want it to be a solitary event - for herself or anyone else.

"I want to help others learn, but I also love to learn myself," she said. The more, the merrier, she feels.

It's that combination of generosity and curiosity that inspired Sam to leave a burgeoning career in marketing and become a nurse. It’s also an approach that’s spurred her as a mentor to both listen and lead - because mentoring a scholar is often a waiting game.

"When I was 14 I didn't want to talk with an adult about anything,” she said. “I certainly didn't talk with an adult about how I was feeling."

So when Sam’s scholar Kayla didn’t open up quickly after they were first paired, Sam decided to attend every PEAK training opportunity she could to soak up mentoring strategies – although she had just started full-time graduate nursing studies. Even as the two strengthened their relationship and developed a close bond and Kayla began confiding more in her, Sam stayed vigilant about increasing her mentoring knowledge.

These days it’s still Sam who’s the first mentor on the Concalls, or first to jump in with a question when others fall silent - and Sam said she increasingly draws on her and Kayla's relationship for lessons that might help others. Her attitude is that if she has questions, others might too. "I come with questions having thought about not just what I struggle with, but also what others struggle with," she said.

At this fall's Roundtable, Sam shared with her fellow mentors what she’s learned through her nursing training and the front lines of COVID-19’s impact on youth mental health (see related article for her tips on what to watch out for when your mentee seems down). "I love working with kids because they want to get better, they have so much hope," she said. Many teens stiil hope to go to college even when the weight of isolation or trauma makes that hard, she noted.

Sam helps bring hope and fun to the PEAK community as part of the small mentor committee advising the PEAK staff on mentor-scholar outings - gauging the mood of each mentor class and bringing that feedback to the group brainstorming sessions on what events to plan. She also attends almost every monthly Concall, finding the knowledge shared to be both very helpful for her mentoring and often broadly applicable - and the information helps feed her desire to learn.

"I learned so much from the mentor roundtable about how to approach your mentor/scholar relationship when your scholar is from a different culture than you," she said, adding that she also enjoys listening to her fellow mentors share their experiences.

Sam first began her PEAK involvement as a mentor-for-a-day. There she met a scholar whose own mentor had to step back for a year and so she stepped up. When that scholar graduated, she stepped up again and was matched with Kayla. While Kayla and Sam have widely different interests, the two share a curiosity for the world around them. Sam's mission as a mentor is to keep them both out of their comfort zones.

"I can't draw to save my life, but she loves painting," Sam said, so the two explored some art activities together. Meanwhile, Kayla readily joined Sam - a champion tennis player in college - on the courts.

Sam looks for opportunities to do activities or spend time with the now-junior Kayla on the scholar’s terms. "You have to learn about their school, culture and family to meet them where they are," she said.

The efforts to help Kayla and all PEAK’s scholars are the result of solid teamwork, Sam noted. “Academic advisors, teachers, fellow classmates and mentors are a few of the people a scholar needs to succeed… it takes all of us working together,” she said. It’s also important to note the effect the scholars have on each other.

"At this age, you are heavily motivated by your peer group," Sam said, noting that she and other mentors must carefully balance giving a scholar space to be with peers and touching base with that scholar as a guide and trusted adult.

Which is just fine with Sam. She's helping Kayla even when she's not with her by helping support the community that supports her scholar.

“My hope is that Kayla or any other scholar can get the help they need and deserve,” she said. “I do not have to be the one to give them the help; I just hope I can help them get there.”


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