Providing Hope One Child At A Time

Linda Featherman wanted to enriched a child’s life, to expose them to unknown possibilities and to create hope. Featherman grew up in Oxford, married, raised her family, became a professional interior designer and retired to her hometown. She felt the call to make a difference in the life of a child. She turned to Talbot Mentors whose mission is to help young people in-need or at-risk prepare for success in their personal and professional lives.

In the summer of 2014, Featherman was matched with nine-year-old Alexys. Almost four years later, they’re still together. More than ever, Featherman wants Alexys to “see that there is more to life outside of her own surroundings – to create possibilities and dreams for the future.”  She knows, through her personal experience as a parent, that kids crave parenting and discipline.  “I give her my love in a constant and guiding way.” Featherman has shown Alexys “consistency, encouragement, support, and approval”.

While the typical time commitment of mentors is a couple of hours a week, it is flexible and subject to the relationship and commitments of both mentor and mentee. In Featherman and Alexys’ case, they enjoy being with each other more than that.  “We volunteer weekly at St. Vincent de Paul Charity Thrift Store where Alexys is a cashier.  Through discipline and training she got very good at it! We always have a good time and we make it fun.” In Linda’s mind she hopes kids come to know that many others can have far greater needs.  Alexys also volunteers alongside Featherman at church events.

This past summer, Alexys was given an opportunity for a two-week Pennsylvania camp experience through the Talbot Mentors camp program and a partial scholarship from the camp itself.  Out of her comfort zone and nervous about leaving her mom and siblings, Alexys at first didn’t want to go. However, with the support of her family and Featherman, Alexys went and had a deeply rewarding experience and the hope for returning this summer. Featherman and Alexys see themselves together “for the long haul as a member of my family”.

Talbot Mentors needs you. You can help in many ways:

Become a mentor and change the life of a child.

Donate and help achieve the goal of offering every mentee a camp experience.

Volunteer to teach the children your special talent or hobby.

To learn about Talbot Mentors please attend the monthly information sessions held every second Wednesday, or visit http://talbotmentors.org/, or call 410-770-5999.

Spills and Thrills: Talbot Mentors—and Mentees—on Ice

When asked what he likes about ice skating, ten-year-old Jacob doesn’t miss a beat. “That I glide,” he says as he skates off to join his buddies on the ice. How about  seven-year-old Aiyonna? “If I fall down, I can get up quickly,” she shares. Between glides, spills come with the territory as just about everyone is finding out. As John says to his mentee, ten-year-old Xavion, “See that? The little girl in the pink sweater who was skating so well. . . all of a sudden—bam, and she’s down.  Even experienced skaters hit the ice.” It’s been 55 years since mentor John has been on the ice. Tonight, the Talbot Mentors goal of expanding horizons is playing out for mentors as well as mentees. A good time is being had by all.

Group photo of mentors, mentees and TM staff

Whenever Talbot Mentors sponsors a special event for mentors and mentees, energy runs high. Lifted spirits are contagious when the bottom line is FUN! At the ice skating party at the  Talbot County Community Center, a group of three dozen mentors and mentees has gathered to lace up skates and take to the ice.

Bre’Asia’s takeaway? “I like it. It’s fun. I want to do it again!” Lori, Bre’Asia’s mentor, explains that the 11-year-old had expressed some concern about getting out on the ice. It would be her first time. “I think having her sister come along helped with her confidence,” Lori says. “Plus Bre’Asia knows so many of the kids here through Talbot Mentors. I was amazed at how quickly she learned and was able to skate by herself.”

And what about mentor Lori, who says she wasn’t sure she’d even “lace up”? “I’m glad I was able to make it around the rink a few times,” she says. “It was exhilarating to be surrounded by so many people smiling and laughing—and it was a good way to get some exercise.: All in all,” she says, “it’s a good, healthy way to spend time together.”

Mentors (left to right) Sheila Buckmaster, John Schreiner, Lori Yates

There they go, around the rink. A pack of three Talbot Mentors boys in an impromptu race. A mentor and her mentee gliding together. A pair of girls holding hands. Just off the ice, a group of skaters dig into some French fries. A few feet from the kids, Talbot Mentors Executive Director Gerson Martinez points his camera toward the ice and clicks away as familiar faces come into view.

“I’m thrilled that so many of our mentors took advantage of this great opportunity to spend valuable time with their mentees. With the support of community partners like the Talbot County Community Center, we’re able to sponsor events like these that give many of our mentees a brand new experience, and enable all of us to strengthen the bonds between our mentors and mentees. I’m so excited for an even bigger Ice Skating night next time.” says Martinez.

“We had two mentees, both elementary-school age, talk about how they have never been ice skating before and always wanted to try it,” says Rachel White, the Talbot Mentors staffer who coordinated the skating event. “One was so excited and went out with no hesitation and loved everything about it. The second one was very nervous, so she decided to stand and watch. After a while she was convinced to try it. After one lap around she was smiling–and clearly having the time of her life.” Talbot Mentors paid for skate rentals and the 6:30–8:30 session—for mentees and mentors.

One mentor who had been at last year’s skating event with his mentee said that this is their favorite way to spend time together. “It’s challenging and we have a lot of laughs. It’s a great night out.”

Mentors and staff come away so gratified by the overwhelmingly fearless mentees. New to the ice or experienced, the kids embrace the challenges and forge ahead. There’s nothing better than watching the pairs try skating and to see the smiles as they learn together.

“The faces and sounds of all the children—that’s the best part of it all,” says Bre’Asia’s mentor, Lori.

For more information, to make a contribution, or to volunteer as a mentor, call Talbot Mentors at 410-770-5999, or visit www.talbotmentors.org.

Our next New Mentor Info Session is open to the public and will be held on Monday, February 12th at 4:30pm at the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, 114 S Washington St #101, Easton, MD 21601.

Three Stories of Talbot Mentors

Naturally, all children and adults are unique.  Recognizing the differences and similarities is a skill in which Talbot Mentors is well practiced.  Matching a caring, committed, friendly adult with a child who is in need or at high risk is Talbot Mentors (TM) purpose.

Here are three stories of very different adults who have committed to being a constant presence in multiple children’s lives. (mentees’ names are changed to respect their privacy.)

Left to right: Terry, Merrilie, Jim

Merrilie Ford, a Real Estate agent in Talbot County for 33 years, loves her profession as well as volunteering.  Fifteen years ago, with Character Counts, it was brought to her attention that a 4th grade boy, Mike (TM no longer matches opposite sexes) wanted someone to help him with his passion for singing.  “He was a really grand kid and his mother did a lot with him, especially with music.”  Unfortunately, she had a heart problem and went to a hospital in Baltimore.  Merrilie took Mike to see her and that was the last time he saw his mom.

During their time together, Merrilie and Mike would go frequently to the Academy Art Museum. “We would look at the art, but, mainly we would sit and talk on ‘our talking bench’.”   Coming to her house for dinner she taught him to set the table, and he said this simple thing was very helpful.  Mike, now 24 years old, occasionally emails and talks on the phone.

Merrilie’s second mentee, 12 yr old Sara, now 24, “hit it off” right away and to this day they can talk about anything.  Sara came from a strong family and has a wonderful grandmother.  Merrilie said “it was the normal, everyday things we do in life like going to the post office that Sara thought were fun and informative. The normal everyday living activities some kids just don’t get to experience for whatever reason – may it be lack of transportation, parents don’t have the time, or absence of extended family.”

Merrilie knew Sara loved art, so she took her to Washington, DC to see art galleries and museums. Merrilie asked if she wanted to go to a Mexican restaurant, but Sara announced she didn’t like that kind of food.  Merrilie talked her into trying the best Mexican restaurant in Washington and, consequently, Sara fell in love with Mexican food.  This lesson taught Sara that she has other “choices” and the courage to try new things.  They also took an exciting trip to New York City – lunch on Madison Ave, walking through wall-to-wall people on 57th St and down 5th Avenue, whereupon Sara exclaimed “THIS is New York!”.

After high school, Sara got an AmeriCorps job at the Talbot Mentors’ office for over a year, and then they offered her part-time employment. Before her job started she and a good friend took a month-long road trip to see the United States – all the way to the West Coast and back.  With the TM job responsibilities and fulfilling her passion for art, she also decided she has enough time to become a Mentor herself to a six-year-old.  Today, Merrilie keeps in touch by asking Sara to help her with things that young people are particularly connected with, like computers.

Yes, Merrilie is looking forward to being a mentor again. “Not having children of my own, rarely seeing my nieces and not having family close by, Talbot Mentors has given me a broader family and a support system.  Mentors and mentees I’ve come to know as friends are some of the nicest people that I wouldn’t otherwise have met.  Mentoring is way for me to have a youth experience in my life and it keeps my finger in the community of kids.”.  Knowing she has a good support system with Talbot Mentors and years of experience, she looks forward to a new mentee.

Ten years ago, Jim Reed, upon retirement as a general contractor, was encouraged by good friends to become a mentor to a child. Jim’s first mentee, Tony, 12, had a father who was only occasionally present in his life. Tony had waited on the TM list for two years before Jim came along.  After five years, Tony’s father returned to the family and it was decided that he no longer needed a Mentor. In time, unfortunately, Tony’s especially close grandfather died and Tony began spiraling downhill.  Jim did his best to meet with him for dinner and talk on the phone.  Recently he ran into Tony’s mom in the store, and she tearfully thanked Jim for being her son’s Mentor.

After Jim and Tony’s “official” match ended, nine-year-old Ricky was matched with Jim and they were together for a total of seven years.  Within the fifth year, Ricky’s father rejoined the family and they moved to the northernmost part of the Eastern Shore.  Heartened to learn that Ricky’s deepest regret about the relocation was “We can’t be mentor and mentee anymore.”  Committed to making the weekly over-an-hour drive, Jim continued their relationship.   Eventually Ricky moved back to Easton and as a teenager he began to get into trouble, both in school and out.  Ricky’s family decided he should live with an out-of-state relative so the official mentor/mentee match was closed.  Today at almost 18, Ricky works full time with a local landscape company and Jim still meets him for dinners.

After the “official” end of this last match, Jim told Natalie Costanzo, then the TM Executive Director, that he was going to take six months off before being matched again.  Within two weeks she reported that she had the perfect mentee for him – “a great ten-year-old.”  Bobby has been his mentee for the past six months and Jim says “We are having a really good time together.”

For Jim “the official mentor/mentee relationships might end at high school graduation, but a good portion of the relationship continues to this day because I have become an adult friend to a young person who can benefit from having one.” Jim swears that “as a mentor, he gets far more from it than the mentees do.”  He feels “it is an excellent use of my time and it has been a pleasure in the long run.”  He also knows each mentor/mentee relationship is unique.

Terry Harwood

At onetime Terry supervised 6,000 employees in the hotel business. Corporate life is stressful. Mentoring is fun.  In 1988 he started mentoring at-risk youth as a trustee at Living Classrooms Foundation in Baltimore, a hands-on educational enrichment and job training program. Now retired from the corporate world, he is having fun (“being goofy”) as a teammate with youth here in Talbot County.

When he moved to Easton in 2002, Terry first became a volunteer with Court Appointed Special Advocates;a youth leader; and youth care provider. Terry’s first Talbot Mentor match was in 2004-5; four other young men followed over the next 12 years. Terry enjoys remaining a mentor to all of them. When being together with a mentee he enjoys asking the question “What works for YOU and why?” Listening to the answers, he learns what is meaningful for them to do together: activity today, career, school programs, family, teamwork.   Teamwork with his mentees is fostered by meeting with them regularly.  He found he also spent time helping their parents find jobs, helped the mentees with college scholarships, talked about career choices and job applications and interviews.  “Sometimes we just walked around town to see what is behind the doors of businesses.”

As the kids “age out” at 18, Terry has continued their relationships as well as relationships with their parents and advisors. He introduces the concept of “listen, learn and love” as a powerful tool for the mentee to embrace. “Listen to another person. Learn from that person. Love that person by being a teammate in their success.”

By phone or in person, he asks his mentees questions to help them make a plan for the “next baby-step”.  In Terry’s professional experience the “next baby-step” is particularly important. He feels it conveys a learning to help the mentee better his practical, emotional and spiritual life. Terry feels he is doing what the “Lord gives me to do for His children.”

If being a Mentor is of interest to you, or perhaps someone you know, please feel free to contact Talbot Mentors at 410-770-5999 or go to: http://talbotmentors.org/  There are a number of children waiting for a special friend, possibly you.

Written by Meredith Watters on behalf of Talbot Mentors

Talbot Mentors Top-of-the-Season Cheer!

Dozens of mentees—plus their families and mentors—personified holiday spirit at the Talbot Mentors year-end party. The kids played, ate, and filled the Teen Center at the Easton YMCA with the sort of joy that Talbot Mentors specializes in!

“We had over 100 attend, and every mentee received a holiday gift,” says Rachel White, TM’s Program and Event Coordinator for more than three years. “The gifts were generously donated by community members of Easton Club East and Talbot Mentors board members.” Indeed, with all the presents brightly wrapped, the party space looked like Santa’s workshop.

Natalie Costanzo, surrounded by mentees, mentors, families and board members.

A good measure of the party food came courtesy of the Talbot Mentors cooking group known as Food For Thought, currently composed of three high school students who work with Chef Jean Butler. On the team are Javion Emory, Yubitza Galvez, and Ty’Asia Johnson.

“Food For Thought is usually a baking group but for the TM Christmas Party we were asked if we cook the main dishes,” says TM Case Manager LaToya Brooks, who works out of the TM St. Michaels. “The kids and the chef came up with the menu, chicken enchiladas and chicken cacciatore,” she continues. Since October, the Food For Thought trio has been busy. “We have baked for two events,” says LaToya. “Our very first event was the TM Boatwright play at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, and our second event was the Art & Craft Marketplace, where the kids baked pumpkin pies and sugar cookies to sell for a donation to Talbot Mentors.” A small portion of the events’ proceeds went to the bakers themselves.

The TM holiday also included a bittersweet element. It was time for everyone to say goodbye to Natalie Costanzo, the universally adored Executive Director of Talbot Mentors who with her family is leaving the organization to head back to Australia.

TM’s new Executive Director, Gerson Martinez, sums up the festive holiday party this way: “The evening was a testament to the strength of Natalie’s leadership of this organization. It was truly inspiring to see so many joyful children and families celebrating Natalie with their mentors,” he said, adding, “I am so thrilled and humbled to take on this responsibility going forward.”

Here’s to a vibrant and joy-filled New Year!

For more information, to make a contribution, or to volunteer as a mentor, call Talbot Mentors at 410-770-5999 or visit www.talbotmentors.org.

Talbot Mentors Send Kids to Camp

A NASA scientist, a fashion designer, an accomplished equestrian, a competitive basketball player? This summer, Talbot Mentors kids are having a blast as seeds for their futures are sown. Thanks to support from local groups and individuals, dozens of mentees are enjoying summer-camp days—and, in some cases, nights. While most are participating in day camps, a good many are at sleep-away camps. For some it is the first time they are away from home. For everyone it is a time of camaraderie, learning, and just plain good times.

“We got to trot!” says 8-year-old Sierra Watson, whose three days at pony camp outside Preston turned her from total novice to budding rider. She bonded with her horse, Freya, and hopes to get the chance to ride again.

In programs that range from 3 days to 2 weeks, in the mid-Atlantic and beyond—all the way to New York State—campers aged 6 to 16 are being treated to experiences of a lifetime. It’s all in keeping with the Talbot Mentors vision that “mentoring will make a significant contribution to building a Talbot County where all young people have the opportunity to lead fulfilling and rewarding lives…”

Says Talbot Mentors Executive Director Natalie Costanzo, “This is our fourteenth season of providing our mentees with life-changing camp experiences. I’m proud to say that last year Talbot Mentors funded summer camp for 47 kids. This year it’s double that number.” With some campers attending more than one session, the total number of summer camp experiences funded by Talbot Mentors tops 120.

Leadership, all manner of sports, nature, crafts, theater, photography, cooking. The themes of this summer’s camps range wide.

“The volunteers who mentor the kids get to see horizons expand,” says Natalie. “The mentees love to share their camp stories with their mentors,” she continues. “An important facet of mentoring is providing children with opportunities they might not otherwise have.”

Each child’s camp tuition is paid in full by a Talbot Mentors scholarship. Thanks go out to the Bryan Brothers Foundation, Children’s Home Foundation, Women and Girls Fund of the Mid Shore, and more than 75 private donors whose support makes this all possible. The total spent on this year’s camp program: in excess of $20,000.

The funding is changing lives in ways we can only imagine.

For more information, to make a contribution, or to volunteer as a mentor, call Talbot Mentors at 410-770-5999 or visit www.talbotmentors.org.

Making New Waves at Talbot Mentors

Move over Easton. Here comes Saint Michaels. Talbot Mentors is opening their second office in this tourist destination. Mentors and mentees alike are invited to come see what “a little hard work” can do. Along with a new office; Talbot Mentors welcomes a new staff member as well. Monica Curreri, a Pfeiffer University Alumni and mentor to Ma’leah Robinson, will be serving as case manager for the non-profit. During college, Monica studied sociology and psychology. Now, she uses both to usher in a diverse and creative atmosphere to the new center. Monica became a mentor after discussing the organization with a friend. When she was younger, her grandmother surrounded her with unconditional love and support. “She was one person that I could talk to and ask questions. I could learn from her. She made me feel special,” she says, “I wanted to bring that feeling to another child.” In January, Monica joined Talbot Mentors and since then, has been a positive role model to the children.

Monica Curreri

She is dedicated to the development of the Saint Michaels’ office. “It’s cool! It has grown from an empty space into a place for fun!” With her history in the food industry, Monica hopes to bring back home cooked meals. Thus, teaching the mentees valuable life skills, while also pursuing a passion.

Not only is Monica going to teach the children how to thrive in the kitchen, she also wants to begin a program for high school students. “It’s still a work in progress but I see great potential in the new area,” Monica informs, “We’re ironing out the wrinkles!” Friends First, a program where seniors and juniors are matched with sixth-graders to help them navigate every-day challenges of middle school, is one of Monica’s many projects. The high school student would benefit from Friends First by receiving community service hours and a broader college transcript, while the sixth graders will gain lasting relationships and useful advice.

St. Michaels office

“I hope to see us grow from 14 mentoring relationships to 100 in the Bay Hundred area,” she says. When asked what she loved about being a mentor, Monica replied, “It’s the feeling that you get when you notice the connection building with your mentee. I love it!” This is a promising move for Talbot Mentors. Welcome aboard, Monica. The office in Saint Michaels officially opened on May 22nd with over 25 local community members attending.

The St Michaels Office will be open on Tuesdays and Fridays till 5:30pm, and is in the back of the St Michaels Housing Authority in Dodson Avenue.

There are many more children in the Bay Hundred Area that need mentors. We are in immediate need of five new men to mentor boys in the St Michaels and Tilghman Island area. If you are interested in becoming a mentor, or know of somebody who would make a great mentor contact Natalie Costanzo today on natalie@talbotmentors.org or 410 770 5999.

Talbot Mentors Awards Its 2017 Scholarship to Michael McCormack

One morning, not too long ago, Michael McCormack—recipient of Talbot Mentors’ $2,000 scholarship—woke up to these words. They came in the form of a text message from his mentor, Brian Cotter, who writes to him daily. The morning motivational texts are in addition to regular get-togethers, church attendance, and evening phone calls. “The most we’ve ever gone without being in touch was when I was at Boy Scout camp, and even then I snuck in a phone call,” says Michael.

Michael and “Mr.” Brian have been a mentor/mentee pair for ten years. To see the two of them together is to immediately appreciate that this is a deeply engaged, respectful, and fun relationship. For Michael, Brian is like a father—especially over the past five years, in light of the death of Michael’s dad. “Michael is family,” says Brian. “That’s just the way it is.”

TM Brian Cotter and a young Michael McCormack.

This year’s Talbot Mentors scholarship is offered in recognition of Michael’s values, sense of purpose, and achievements in and out of school. He graduates from Saint Peters and Paul School —where his mom teaches third grade—at the end of May. His favorite subjects have been religion, history, computers, and gym.

Now, as his high school tenure winds down, Michael is playing a waiting game. The 18-year-old was accepted into all eight schools to which he applied, and now he has to choose. Which school will enjoy the honor of having this thoughtful, mature, dedicated, compassionate, pragmatics, and bright young man as a student depends on which institution will best come through for him with financial assistance.

“I do not want to totally finance school with loans and want to be financially responsible,” Michael says. One of the options he’s considering is Maryland’s 2+2 Transfer Scholarship program—two years at Chesapeake College and then two years at a state university.

What are Michael’s thoughts regarding career? “I am thinking about arts and entertainment management, or maybe something with sports,” he says, adding that he knows he’ll be studying business along the way. As he noted in his Talbot Mentors Scholarship application, “I would attend college in order to fully develop my talents and skills, as well as to grow as a person.”

TM Brian Cotter and Michael McCormack today.

Michael is an expert in time management. Throughout his student years he has juggled school, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and part-time jobs. Theater—on the stage but primarily behind the scenes—has been a staple in his life. As a veteran of several sports activities, Michael says he enjoys basketball the most. “I like the people, and my dad liked the sport, so there is a connection there,” says Michael. Adding to his fondness for the basketball is that fact that his mentor has coached the Saint Peter and Paul team for more than a decade.

“Michael played for two years and since has managed the team for 10 years,” says Brian, pointing out that in this role Michael touches every aspect of team life, from keeping track of team member stats and releasing this information to the Star Democrat to acting as a liaison between the coaches and the players. “He’s like a junior assistant coach,” says Brian, “doing everything imaginable to help the team.”

Making a difference matters to Michael, who has been an active member of many high school clubs, including Key Club. “We always do something to help people,” he says. Indeed, the club’s activities include a Special Olympics program.

“You are on the 18th hole and you have one putt left. Don’t miss it.”  That’s another of Brian’s morning messages to Michael.

For all his involvement, however, Brian doesn’t specifically steer his mentee. “Michael should do what he’s interested in doing. I am there to support him,” says Brian. “My only stipulation is that he works hard at what he does and that he keeps his grades up.”

Michael, whose grade point average is 3.32, has racked up accomplishments beyond the school environment. For more than six years he worked part-time on a farm, doing everything from “mowing the lawn to power washing the dock to grading the driveway,” he explains. Now he’s working at the new car wash in Easton—Gander’s—where you will see him directing the outside area. He directs drivers to the car-detail base, makes sure the customers are happy when the wash is complete, and sees to it that any problems are handled in a timely fashion.

Michael is currently providing technical support for the Tred Avon Players show Lend Me a Tenor, at the Oxford Community Center. He is rehearsing as Shenzi, the lead hyena, in the Chesapeake Children’s Theatre, Lion King, at the Prager Family Auditorium in Easton, June 9th  and 10th.

Michael, who is a member of Easton’s Boy Scout Troop 190, has recently received his Eagle Scout. Michael’s project was for Old Saint Joseph’s Church in Cordova in which he painted and repaired two outside buildings as well as planting trees in the cemetry. The church, which is a part of his parish, is special to Michael since his father is buried there and he wanted to spruce up the area, while completing his project.

In the realm of entertainment, NCIS is one of his favorite shows, and Mark Harmon is an actor who has his respect. Why Harmon?

“As a character, you know who he is,” Michael says, adding that “he always keeps the audience wanting more.”

Well, the same can be said for the Talbot Mentors 2017 scholarship recipient. Michael, you leave us wanting more, and clearly there’s lots more to come.

Where does he see himself 10 years from now? “Just enjoying whatever I’m doing.”

Go Michael!

A Talbot Mentors Match—the 100th!

TM Tina De’Angelis and Heidy Lopez-Cruz

2017 is an important year for Talbot Mentors. It is our 20th anniversary. Hundreds of Talbot County children have been matched with mentors in our 20 year history. Today is a special day. Today marks the most mentor/mentee pairs the organization has supported at one time – 100!

The meeting that will formalize a brand-new mentor/mentee match begins with an icebreaker—a way to get the group involved in something other than the sweet nervousness that comes with making new friends. At its core, the relationship between a mentor and a mentee is all about the trust, guidance, and care that characterize deep friendship.

Jazmine and Javana (Talbot Mentors staffers) get up from the table. Following suit are Tina (the new mentor), Heidy (the new second-grade mentee) and her mom and younger brother, and Jeremy (a seasoned mentor who has joined the group as translator). Heidy’s mom, Keilin, is from Central America and is just starting to learn English.

“Let’s play,” says Jazmine. “This is a little game about things that make you happy,” she continues before launching into a series of questions. There are no winners or losers. It is a chance to start to get to know one another.

“Which do you like better, dogs or cats?” Jazmine asks. The dog people are invited to stand on the left side of the room; the cat people, on the right. It’s dogs, unanimously. “Beaches or amusement parks?”  Only Javana opts for beaches. “Pizza or burgers”? All votes go for pizza—no, wait a second, Jeremy has walked to the burger side of the room. Heidy giggles. Before long, the ice is broken and everyone sits back down, still discussing likes. “Dancing” for Tina and Keilin; “playing Legos more than watching TV” for Heidy.

The laughter grows warmer.

“Now can I talk to Heidy?” Tina asks. Her cut-to-the-chase exuberance can be construed as a harbinger of things to come. Heidy will surely benefit from the “let’s get the ball rolling” spirit of a woman who clearly loves children and can’t wait to get started.  But she’s going to have to be patient for 15 minutes more.

“Today is April 3, 2017, says Javana. “It’s an important date—for you and, in a very exciting way, for Talbot Mentors,” she says, making eye contact with everyone seated at the table. “This will be your anniversary date.” Tina and Heidy look at each other.  Javana goes on to explain that mentor, mentee, and mentee’s mom will get together and celebrate in exactly one year. They will take stock on how things have gone for Tina and Heidy; what have they most enjoyed doing? In fact, mentors and mentees usually agree that “just being together” is what matters most. What are their thoughts re year two?

The importance of April 3, 2017, for the organization? “This is the 100th Talbot Mentors match,” Javana offers with a smile that could light darkness. History in the making! Murmurs around the room. This milestone match brings together a woman who grew up in the slums of Sao Paulo, came to the U.S. when she was 14, and went on to be a successful Eastern Shore real estate broker with a reserved seven-year-old child whose eyes flash brightness and whose conversation shuttles easily between Spanish and English. Tina is fluent in Spanish, which will go a long way to keeping Heidy’s mom in the loop.

Exchanged between Tina and Keilin are 3×5 cards with contact information. Logistical glue.

Next comes the match agreement—a one-pager that spells out expectations and commitments. Jazmine reads, “The mentoring relationship is a partnership between the mentee, mentor, mentee’s parent/caregiver, and Talbot Mentors, in a commitment to meet for 1-2 hours a week for a year. We ask that all members commit to working through challenges and agree to responsibilities outlined below.” Jeremy translates.

Communication—among all parties—tops the contract list. Making dates. Keeping dates. Sharing information on Talbot Mentors special events. Reporting pressing challenges. The document and a pen are passed around. Signers are Javana, Heidy, Tina, and Keilin. It is a declaration of interdependence that sets the stage for success.

Everyone’s schedule is tight, but the group quickly lands on a regular Sunday afternoon meeting time for Tina and Heidy. “School’s out June 9,” says Tina. “I hope we can meet more than once a month during the summer.”

Nods of agreement. Applause all around. A journey has begun. Tina and Keilin hug. And then the proud new mentor walks over to Heidy, who, in no time flat, is on Tina’s lap.

Smiles are wide. Horizons too. What a match!

There are many more children in Talbot County that need mentors. We are in immediate need of twenty new mentors. If you are interested in becoming a mentor, or know of somebody who would make a great mentor contact Natalie Costanzo today on natalie@talbotmentors.org or 410 770 5999.

A Talbot Mentor Comes Full Circle

TM Jazmine

Now Jazmine is mentoring Lai’Aurii Brice, a feisty first-grader who was recently seen wearing a shirt emblazoned with the words “It’s not all about me. Just mostly.” It is a fitting slogan for a little girl who doesn’t think twice about going after what she wants. The petite seven-year-old actually recruited Jazmine to be her mentor.

Here’s how that happened.

“I did not come into mentoring like most mentors do,” says Jazmine. After watching a training video during a parent/mentee introduction session at the Talbot Mentors headquarters, Jazmine and ‘Lai started playing together while ‘Lai’s mom spoke with Case Manager Javana Bowser. As ‘Lai and her mother were about to leave, the young girl looked Jazmine in the eye and said, “I know I am going to get to see you and play again because you are going to be my mentor.”

Jazmine wasn’t quite ready to sign up—and ‘Lai wasn’t quite ready to abandon her wish. “The next time I saw her,” says Jazmine, “she was here for an after-school cooking session. As soon as she saw me walk in, she said, ‘Look everyone, it’s my mentor.’ She ran over to me and gave me a hug.”

And so the match was made—early in January 2017. Most mentor/mentee pairs meet once a week. ‘Lai and Jazmine have been getting together two or three times a week—going to Pet Smart to see the animals, playing with the kittens at Talbot Humane, looking at art at the Academy Art Museum (followed by some frozen yogurt), walking around Target, and hanging out at the Mentors office after school on Wednesdays.

TM_ Jazmine Gibson and Lau'Aurii Brice 3As a well-seasoned mentee and a Talbot Mentors staffer, Jazmine has a great grounding for being a mentor. From her various vantage points, she knows that the crux of good mentoring is individual attention. “To have someone carve out time for you means the world,” she says. “Miss Merrillee showed me that. In the time we have spent together, a world of opportunities to see the world in constructive ways has opened up for me. We went places, and she shared stories about her life. I saw, I listened, and I learned. She gave me so much.”

Now in the Mentor’s Seat, Jazmine is determined to provide the same sort of experience for ‘Lai.

Jazmine’s tool box also is enriched by her work at Talbot Mentors. She redeveloped the mentor training program to have it coincide with National Mentoring Association guidelines. She plays a key role in training new mentors, working with other staffers and Lenny Gold, who has been a Talbot Mentor for two decades. To now be a mentor herself is “almost surreal,” she says. “It’s one thing to be on staff at Talbot Mentors and another thing to actually be a mentor.”

And so she now is in the same shoes as those she trains. “I’m one of them, looking for ways to become a better mentor and choosing fun activities for my mentee. The Talbot Mentors organization helps mentors find their way when it comes to things to do with kids. The first time the two of them got together as “mentor and mentee,” Jazmine and ‘Lai pored over the Talbot Mentors “Idea a Week” list and checked off more than two dozen “must-do” activities, including walking the trails at Pickering Creek, sitting down for a soda at Hill’s, taking photographs, going fishing, and heading out for a swim at the Easton or St. Michaels community pool.

‘No matter what we do together, being with ‘Lai always reminds me of what it’s like to be little,” Jazmine says. “The enthusiasm—though she is far more outgoing than I ever was—the stubbornness, how great it is to have fun, and how good it feels to have someone pay attention to you.”

It’s not uncommon for a mentor—even one with only a couple of mentoring months under her belt—to think way down the line. Jazmine’s hopes for ‘Lai? “That’s a big question,” she says and then offers a sincere, uncomplicated answer. “She should be happy.”

For more information, to make a contribution, or to volunteer as a mentor, call Talbot Mentors at 410-770-5999 or visit www.talbotmentors.org.

By Sheila F. Buckmaster

A Winning Partnership

TM_Natalie Costanzo and Mike Meoli

Mike owner of the two local McDonalds handing the check over to Natalie Costanzo, Director of Talbot Mentors.

In January for National Mentoring Month,  Talbot Mentors partnered with the local McDonalds. McDonald’s donated a portion of every happy meal sold in January from the two restaurants in Easton to Talbot Mentors. In addition McDonalds held two McTeacher Nights in support of Talbot County Public Schools. A total of almost $3000 was raised to help local kids in Talbot County. We would like to express our thanks to the owner, Mike Meoli.