Mentoring brings generations together
Teens and Partners for New Generations volunteers benefit from connection
When she can't turn to her teachers, family or friends for fear she'll be reported, punished or judged, Axel Cipres is thankful that she has Sue Russell.
Cipres, a senior at Alta Vista High School, is comfortable sharing things with Russell that she wouldn't want to share with anyone else.
"With Sue, I can talk to her and I know it's more private," the 18-year-old said, saying that she views Russell as separate from her school, family and friends.
Being able to turn to someone outside the three main groups of people in her life is great, Cipres said. If nothing else, Cipres can share her feelings without worrying that what she says might get back to someone she doesn't want hearing it.
The two were connected by the nonprofit community organization, Partners for New Generations — a Voice Holiday Fund recipient, which provides tutoring and mentorship to students in Mountain View and Los Altos schools.
There are about 80 high school students in the PNG mentorship program. Around half of the mentees come from Alta Vista, while the other half come from both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools.
Mentors spend time with the kids in a number of ways — taking them to lunch, museums and other cultural events, or just talking on the phone. "A strong relationship between a caring adult and a teenager reduces significantly the likelihood of the teenager engaging in risky behavior," according to the PNG website.
"It's been nice," Cipres said of the time she has spent with her mentor.
It's her second year with Partners for New Generations and she said she has recommended the program to her friends, telling them it is a good way to broaden their perspective.
Russell is glad to hear Cipres' endorsement, and so is Diane Gershany, who is also mentoring an Alta Vista student this year — Juliette Morizor.
Gershany has been involved in PNG for many years and said that the program is very rewarding.
As a mentor, Gershany has had many opportunities to help students either get back on track or stay focused academically. She related a story of one teen she "dragged" to the principal's office after the student had repeatedly skipped school. The girl's parents weren't all that concerned with their daughter's truancy, Gershany said, but after she and Alta Vista's principal Bill Pierce intervened, the girl started attending school regularly again.
But most of the time she has spent mentoring, Gershany gets to have fun with the students, and she appreciates the connection with a younger generation. In the past, Gershany has taken students to the aquarium and the ballet; recently she and Morizor baked cupcakes for Thanksgiving.
"I would otherwise have very little contact with young people," she said. "This really is a fun volunteer opportunity."
For her part, Morizor said she enjoys Gershany's company, as well. When she first decided to sign up, she worried that her mentor might turn out to be boring.
"Diane isn't boring," she said, laughing along with Gershany.
Like Cipres, she said she appreciates the unique role her mentor plays. "It's different, obviously, because she's not a teacher and she's not my mom," the teen said. "It's nice to have an adult that respects you."