Shirille Lee, the Student Support Specialist for Youth FIRST for Chatham Communities In Schools, joined the CIS team as a staff member in 1998. But long before that, she was a volunteer mentor and board member. Her full-time service to CIS has included being the Governor’s One-on-One mentoring coordinator and Volunteer and Youth Services coordinator. She brings infectious enthusiasm the job and says she is guided each day by a favorite quote: “To the world you may be one person; but to one person you may be the world.”
In 2018, Lee initiated a new program at CIS, “Mentoring Plus,” where she began working more directly with schools to provide mentoring, lunch buddies and other kinds of supports for students. It’s funded by the United Way of Chatham County, Chatham County government and generous individual sponsors.
With Youth FIRST (Finding Integrated Resources & Supports Together), Lee coordinates individual, case-managed intervention services to reach referred students in Chatham County. In the past year she served 68 youth across 11 schools, with a concentration of services at three schools: Pittsboro Elementary School, Horton Middle School and Siler City Elementary. Lee works with each student to complete a needs assessment and a student support plan identifying an attendance, behavior or coursework goal. The students have monthly check-ins, and parents are encouraged to be more engaged with their child’s teacher and school. This week, the News + Record spoke with Lee about her role and the mentoring program.
What drew you to this work?
I believe we all have gifts. At one time I was at a crossroad in my life and thought I wanted to do something different, explore another gift (I had been youth leader at my church for over a decade). I didn’t really know what I was looking for but when I read an article in The Chatham News about mentoring, I signed up before I knew what I was doing. I later followed up that decision with signing up to be a foster parent for Chatham County Department of Social Services. I thought I was on a different path, but it lead me right back to working with children, just in a different capacity.
Working for CIS is the dream job!!! It’s like having your cake and eating it too!
How would you describe what mentoring is to someone who may not know what it is?
Mentoring is all about opportunity and exposure.
As a mentor you have the opportunity to expose youth to positive things in their community, include them in things they may not get a chance to explore for many reasons. It’s hard to prepare a meal or read a book together for a single parent who works 12-16 hours a day or go to the planetarium or the zoo when you’re struggling to make ends meet. A mentor can step in and provide those experiences. Surprisingly some of the favorite activities for mentees were grocery shopping, cooking a meal and sitting down together to eat that meal, working in the garden or flower bed, enjoying the peace and quiet.
It’s not about money and the things a mentor could buy, but the time spent together. Mentoring is about sharing your story. Sometimes we (adults and youth) just focus on the end results and never share what it took to reach the goal. Our youth need to hear the story and know that they can persevere and achieve.
Certainly, mentoring is about giving, but it’s also about receiving. It’s an amazing feeling to know that you are making/have made a difference in a person’s life. You learn so much from your mentee about resilience and endurance. You also learn a lot about yourself and a sense of gratitude for the informal mentors that influence you.
How does mentoring benefit a young person?
Mentoring provides additional support for a youth. Whether academic, recreational or emotional support, a mentor can be there to help meet the need. Mentoring gives a young person the opportunity to experience new things that could have life changing effects. A trip to the ballet or museum to expose a creative, artistic side or helping in a garden and cooking a meal together, exposing an interest in culinary arts. The possibilities are endless.
How do you find volunteers, what is the process for an applicant, what kind of training and supervision is offered?
Finding volunteers can be challenging. We make posts, write articles, do presentations at churches and civic meetings/events, post flyers and information in neighborhood newsletters/e-letters, but it’s mostly word of mouth from current and former mentors.
How do parents feel about their child having a mentor? How do you work with parents of mentees?
This program is voluntary, so parents make the decision to allow their child to participate. Most parents recognize the possibilities of what mentoring can offer. I work with parents to make sure all their questions are answers. Allowing a stranger to leave with your child can be difficult, so just helping parents to process those feelings. When needs are identified, helping parents find resources and encouraging parents to build a relationship with the schools if one is not established are just a few of the things when working with parents.
How do you decide which kids get mentors since there is a limited number of volunteers available?
The decision can be difficult, but we look at location. We try to match within a 10-12 mile radius, we look at interest — mentor and youth, parent support — whether parent is really supportive of match, whether youth is open to the match and possibly trying new things. We look at goals — what the youth, parent and mentor hope to accomplish to see if it’s compatible. We look at temperament as well as energy levels for compatibility.
What does mentoring look like? What does it consist of?
Minimum requirement of four hours per month for one year. Don’t try to create time for mentoring, but include mentee in things you are already doing — gardening, cooking, hiking/walking, grocery shopping. Other activities are fun too, but it’s about the time spent together.
If you’re interested in hearing more about volunteer opportunities, contact Shirille at firstname.lastname@example.org