By Valentina Alfaro E.

As a Community Based Mentoring (CBM) Program Coordinator here at Silver Lining Mentoring, I support mentor-mentee matches throughout their journeys with the organization. One of my favorite parts of this role is working with teens and young adults as they transition from our Learn & Earn program into the long-term CBM program.

Through Learn & Earn (L&E), teens and young adults attend weekly workshops with their SLM mentors for 12 weeks. At these workshops, they learn about financial literacy, employment readiness, and other life skills. They are structured workshops, oriented to provide information and tangible tools to support them in successfully navigating adulthood. While a part of L&E sessions is focused on providing useful content, a key component to the program is the SLM volunteer mentors who support young people in their learning process and build connections with their mentees. During the workshops, young people and mentors connect on a one-to-one basis and create strong foundations for their matches.

Young people—especially teens—may enter these workshops because they’re excited to learn professional and personal life skills. But by the end of the workshop series, they stay in the program because they want to stick with their mentors. Most matches (75%, in fact!) decide to transition into the long-term CBM program, where they can continue to meet one-to-one but now in the community and using their time however they prefer: hanging out; working on personal goals; talking; seeing movies; getting coffee; and so on.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend Learn & Earn workshops held with our partner, Plummer Youth Promise. I got to know the participants and introduce them to our services, particularly CBM. I had the pleasure to attend the last L&E session, also known as graduation, to coordinate the matches’ transitions from L&E to CBM.

In addition to eating great Chinese food and all the other treats, graduation is the time to reflect about the program, and share the participants’ main takeaways from the past 12 weeks. Because of the skills focus of the workshops and the very useful information they share, there are so many tangible takeaways: knowing how to open a bank account; how to write a solid cover letter; learn what credit is and how to choose a credit card; how to budget; knowing to differentiate between wants and needs, and so on—you get the idea.

Nevertheless, when the L&E facilitator asked, “What is the main takeaway from L&E for you?” the participants that answered:

“Getting to know people that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.”
“People showing up.”
“Great sense of humor.”
“Feeling welcomed in this group.”

Participants’ answers highlighted how much the group cohesion had grown, and that everyone in the group truly enjoyed spending time with their peers. Someone even mentioned that their favorite takeaway was the cheesecake brought by a mentor (I second that!), which also pointed out to the importance of feeling cared for.

Though I only attended a few sessions, I was impressed, pleased, and moved by how much the relationships between mentors and mentees had grown. And, this group didn’t take it for granted: more like the opposite! The connections they built during those 12 weeks were what they valued the most from their L&E experience.

To me, this makes sense. SLM’s motto is, “We thrive when we matter.” Just as the content provided in the L&E workshops is essential for life, supportive relationships are also a game changer for youth in our programs. This program provided the opportunity for young people to get both. Now, I can’t wait to see how these relationships keep growing as part of our CBM program!