When I was a senior in high school, I took a community service seminar. We spent a semester volunteering a minimum of six hours a week either adopting an entire elementary classroom or working one on one with a young student in need of extra support. A teacher at heart, I was the only student who chose the classroom program, but coincidentally had two students in my class who were being mentored by fellow classmates from the community service seminar. One of the high school boys specifically enrolled in the seminar because, in his words, “It was an easy ‘A,’ and we go to Valley Fair [a local amusement park] in the spring!” Obviously, this seminar was not a priority in his life. He would often say to me as I was on my way to the school, “Oh, I’m not going to go over and meet with my little buddy today. I’m not in the mood. He won’t mind. This isn’t a big deal to him.” Well, to Adrian (the little buddy in question) who was in need of a caring older role model, it was a huge deal. I spent the entire year lying on behalf of Adrian’s big buddy, explaining to a heart-broken little boy why his mentor wasn’t there and making sure to do something special with him while I was there.
In May, it was time for the much-anticipated Valley Fair trip. As the only student without a specific little buddy, I was not planning on going on the trip, as I had no idea how I would choose which of my beloved 2nd graders to bring. The morning of the trip arrived and I was at the elementary school reading to my class when Adrian came up to me and said, “Will you please go with me to Valley Fair?” I told him that I was honored he would ask, but I was sure that his big buddy was already coming to pick him up. He stamped his foot and said, “Big Buddies are supposed to be there for us, they are supposed to care about us, and they are supposed to want to spend time with us. They are supposed to SHOW UP! He doesn’t do those things for me, but you do! I want to go with you!” When the bus pulled up, Adrian and his teacher came out, talked to our class supervisor, and, needless to say, I had a great time riding on roller coasters with Adrian that day!
My name is Nina Jonson, the new Director of Training and Outreach for the Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota (MPM), and this story, from 17 years ago, is more relevant than ever as I embark on this new journey with this amazing organization!
I have spent my entire work career in the field of youth work and youth development, dedicating nearly a decade to adolescent sexual and reproductive health as a health educator for myHealth for Teens & Young Adults. In my work there, I saw young person after young person in need of that someone; that person willing to show up and be present in their lives during a really pivotal time in their development. I saw parents, searching for other caring adults to help shoulder the load of raising kids in today’s fast-paced, impersonal world and I saw a need for more professional development around competency for working with youth of different life experiences, as well as ways for adults to be more intentional about the ways they build relationships with young people.
My role at MPM will give me the opportunity to better meet all these needs in the way I know best: educating. My happy place is in front of a crowd. The bigger the better! I’ve trained groups as large as 800, but enjoy engaging smaller groups as well. Part of being a great educator is being a great performer. I love involving the “students” in the show! In my 10 years as an educator, I have presented nearly 9,000 times, reaching 100,000 people in not only in Minnesota but nationally. I love everything about getting an audience excited about the work they are already doing and making sure they leave my sessions with a packed toolkit, prepared and ready for the work they have yet to do.
We all want happy, healthy, engaged and empowered kids in our world. After all, they are going to be the adults of tomorrow. Too many of them are still waiting by the classroom door, hoping someone will show up and become invested in their lives. I look forward to equipping mentors, program staff and youth workers to more effectively connect with the young people in their charge. In addition, I am excited to create training and curriculum specifically for our youth and to turn them into someone like Adrian; the kind of young people who can seek out mentors in their own lives who might have been there all along and were just waiting to be asked!
Can’t wait to ride this roller coaster with all of you!