We may not realize it, but for those who have little support in their lives, the little things we do to teach someone about life and their personal potential can have a monumental impact on their future and the future of those they impact. Mentoring is not only imparting wisdom to someone who needs it, it is recognizing and validating the potential of the individual, especially when they may not see it in themselves. A few weeks ago I was reminded of how powerful a mentor can be. Since then, I have been reflecting on the people in my life who did little things that changed the course of what could have been:
- Professor Sheldon Harmatz, high school Science teacher. He always gave me a hard time for missing most of my early morning Science classes for two semesters. Complaining they were too early, I signed up for his late morning Environmental Science class the third semester. Always on time, I became a model student. He reinforced my participation by inviting me to discuss topics over lunch now and then, always professional in every way. Mr. Harmatz gave me a reason to want to go to school. Years later when I returned to Sunnyvale with my three little girls, I looked him up. He had just had his first baby and was SO thrilled to invite us into his home whereas he played the birth video of his first child while we all ate pizza. Sheldon Harmatz was the only teacher during my spotty primary and secondary education who showed me I was worth the effort. He was the only adult in my childhood who spoke out about the necessity for me to be a responsible participant in my education. Mr. Harmatz also fostered the lasting passion for environmental responsibility I have carried into every aspect of my life. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDQyoUZB9us&feature=channel_page
- La Leche League International provided me with mentors that lasted for years as I also learned to mentor other mothers. Being a young mother from a difficult childhood, I needed someone to show me a better way to raise my children, a healthier way to bring up my three daughters. The members of La Leche League did this and more. I learned how to handle the challenges of mothering through loving guidance, which to this day, I believe saved me and my children. They showed me how to do it right, even though there were still many imperfect moments of mothering. I had a new model to aspire to other than my own past conditioning. What I received from LLLI (www.llli.org) I also went on to share with my own daughters who are now mothers themselves. This healthy foundation became the philosophy for my work with children throughout my entire life.
- Judy Green and Robert Schellenberger introduced me to the exciting potential of biofeedback and non-traditional counseling methods during my first year of college work study. I studied and worked under Judy Green, daughter of Elmer and Alyce Green—the pioneers of biofeedback—while working at Aims Biofeedback Lab in Greeley, Colorado. This synchronistic experience enhanced the important pieces of a program I would later create and implement during my teaching career. Judy’s husband, Professor Schellenberger insisted we learn actual counseling techniques as freshmen, which we did. Today, my family members still benefit from the Gestalt techniques in dream interpretation I learned in that first year of college.
- Jose Montoya—what a rebel! I remember how impressive it was to find out that his book of poetry was actually banned from the CSUS library in the 70’s, the very same university this Poet Laureate was teaching at when I took his class, Art and The Child. Jose introduced me to Rudolfo Anaya, Caesar Chavez, and active Chicano role models like himself working to improve the lives of immigrants and their children in the U.S. During class, Jose taught us to understand what it was like to be a creative being in a learning environment. Comprehending the purity and necessity of the creative process, I recalled the events from childhood that had stifled much of my own creativity. I promised to help encourage this in all of my future students, a promise I still strive to carry out today. Compassionate activism for the Latino struggle in the U.S. has also become one of my torches thanks to Jose Montoya.
- Doctor Ennis McDaniel gave me the confidence and guidance to become a biofeedback intern and stress management teacher. His phenomenal skills crafted my training, allowing me to find my own style and ability to empower others in their self-awareness and healing. His mentoring gave me the confidence to design innovative biofeedback and relaxation techniques which I utilized to help hundreds of at-risk students. Though Ennis is no longer with us, memories of his wise and gentle spirit continue on.
- Dan Retuta taught me hypnotherapy, intuitive healing, and that healing ourselves was primary before we could be authentic when helping others. His warm guidance, support of my personal process, and complete professionalism gave me a new level of self-worth. I went on to extend this wisdom to my classes where I used these techniques to help students find their own self-worth and inner peace.
- Maria del Rosario Casanova al Caraz is one of the most poignant mentors in my life. She is the grandmother of my goddaughter Alondra in Manzanillo, Colima-Mexico. The mother of ten children, today Rosario is 74. Not only does she make the spiritual trek, walking on foot and camping for 7 days every year to make the pilgrimage up to Il Talpa, she is the most gentle, humble, loving, maternal person I have ever met. The nuances of motherhood and grandmotherhood she has displayed in the twenty something years I have known her are so numerous, gracious, and profound, I will not list them here, save this one. I always feel warmth when I remember they way she showed me how to wash beans. Yes, beans! For about 3-5 minutes, she gently caressed the beans while swishing them in a bowl of fresh water from the pila. This, she said, takes away the gas. No need to boil or soak overnight. The love and care she put into washing those beans for those few minutes was one of the most tender and memorable gestures towards providing nourishment for a family, proving that what we think while we work for our loved ones effects the outcome. Her children and grandchildren have the utmost endearing respect and love for Rosario. I don’t believe I will ever reach her grace and humility, but through her actions and most importantly, her non-reactions, I understand how simple flowing acts of love make life much more harmonious for all mankind.
- Earle J. Conway, former principal of Sierra Mountain High School in Grass Valley, California gave me permission to introduce my programs to his students. His confidence and trust in me—like a supportive parent—allowed me to flourish in my teaching career at this school for over five years. I was given space and the freedom to create a variety of innovative programs for the school’s at-risk students. These programs offered refuge and coping skills, but could not have been possible without Earle’s continual support. At times, those in charge are so threatened by changes that they look past solutions. Earle was a leader who saw the potential in every staff member and gave them the freedom to find what worked best, which brought out the best in everyone, staff and students alike.
- Finally, though there are so many more mentors in my life—like my aunt, my uncle, and my grandmother, I will end this train of thought with one of the most spectacular non-family mentors I was blessed to have known: Robert B. Choate, Jr. whom I knew as Bob. The most interesting thing about Bob is though he died May 3rd of this year at 84 years old and since I last saw him about 1 1/2 years ago, his mentoring continues. We first met in Nevada City. I was running a community meeting to boost support for a skatepark project I had been working on for about five years at that time. Captivated by the cause, Bob stepped in to become a part of our BOD, bringing much needed political savvy to the project. Knowing the power of the media and feeling impressed by my dedication to this youth driven project, Bob went on to nominate me for a Daily Point of Light Award, which I did receive on September 17, 1998. Bob’s national clout (I am only just realizing from the wealth of history in his obituaries this past month) gave us the boost we needed to finally bring our project to completion. (I am now studying how to approach a future campaign of mine from the blueprint of his successful campaign against the junk food industry in the 70’s http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_B._Choate,_Jr. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/13/us/13choate.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=robert%20choate&st=cse. Who would have known that an outcast fifteen year-old sitting on that park bench at Fair Oaks Park in Sunnyvale, cutting classes with no hope, no goals, no support for a future, would receive a national award of distinction by a major player like this someday! Bob’s recognition was the ultimate message of what I was capable of and what I had yet to do. Though a book could be written on what Bob taught me in the few years we interacted, there is a particular statement he made to me one day that has inspired me to think bigger regarding the potential I had to help others. He told me, “Christina, you are just a big fish in a small pond”. That statement set me free! It became the impetus to think of my life’s work beyond the borders of Nevada County.
Every one of us has our own mentors, and I have used actual names to recognize the positive impact of my own. The little things we do, the things we say to remind others of their worth and their potential do matter. Words can be as inspiring to the human spirit as they can be inhibiting. To all of the people who are mentors and may not know it, thank you, because what you say and do has unforeseen impacts! You shape our lives, our direction, our self-concepts. Mentoring is the gift that really does keep on giving, like the ripples from a pebble in a pond that often continue further than we realize. This is also a reminder for us to choose our words carefully, because you just never know!