THE MAGIC AND THE UNEXPECTED: Mentoring in the Times of the Pandemic

Contributed by Debi Kant, Mentor Coordinator & Volunteer

No one of course would imagine that the world would encounter these types of challenging times and that the pandemic would last this long.  Yet, in the midst of these challenges, the power of mentoring endures.  

In June 2020, LSSNCA matched me with the Najamyar family who arrived to the US in March. When Mujtaba, the eldest son, entered Maryland’s youth program, I mentored Mujtaba separately as well as his delightful family.

Debi & Mujtaba take a selfie

As part of the youth mentorship of Mujtaba, Debi is working with him to plan out his future career here in the US. Mujtaba said, “we discuss about my job and because I study IT, so I need a flexible job, I explain to her, and she told me yes it will be good.”

We mentored virtually and engaged with each other on so many fronts. We have a friendship and a coaching relationship. The topics we discuss are endless: jobs, careers, ESL, families, climate change, the green economy, the US Constitution, obtaining social security cards, working computers, and even food stamps.   

According to Mujtaba, he really enjoys his time spent remotely with Debi and she has been a big help: “we talk and discuss once a week and sometimes two times a week because I am separated from my family; my computer was not working and when she know about that she contacted my caseworker and then she fixed it for me; then she asking about ESL classes, whether we are were enrolled or not, then we enrolled in ESL class; every week she wants to know what we learned from our ESL class.”

A birthday selfie!

I have partnered with LSS staff with respect to the latter topics.  On top of that, we laugh and have fun!  I also engage virtually with other members of the family even if it is just to say hi, wave, smile, and show I care. Even the smallest gestures mean a lot. 

When Mujtaba’s t-shirt design “Water is life” won a contest to be featured for a Welcoming Week fundraiser with Custom Ink, I congratulated him and he replied “You motivate me always!”  

Last Sunday was Mujtaba’s 21st birthday.  I brought a cake, a birthday card, and we all visited with social distancing and masks!   The event on every level was stupendous.  The joy we all felt –me and the Najamyar family — was great.  Mujtaba’s sister wore a shirt she made – she is a seamstress and also wants to be a cardiac surgeon!  The family introduced me to Afghan cuisine which I promised to partake after the pandemic.  Her shirt?  The colors of the United States flag: red, white and blue.

Our Refugee Youth Mentoring Project (RYMP) is designed to support civic and social engagement, as well as academic and vocational achievement of refugee youth clients (ages 16-24) in Maryland. This program is geared to engage refugee youth in meaningful career exploration, career planning, guidance and job training services, as well development of social emotional and skills to identify, obtain, and sustain employment. As friends and advocates, mentors play a valuable role in helping youth clients adjust to their new communities, explore career and educational pathways, and learn skills in areas like time management, financial planning, civic responsibility, and leadership.

Since Covid-19, our youth mentoring programs have “gone virtual” so volunteers can meet and provide support to their youth mentees virtually. Additionally, since the start of summer 2020, our amazing volunteer mentor coach Debi Kant has spearheaded an expanded training and support model that includes mentor onboarding, peer discussions, skills-based workshops and modules, programming, and other learning opportunities available for mentors and mentees. To sign up as a youth or family mentor with us, visit our Volunteer Opportunities page!

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