TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL
Bridget Watts’ Success Story
My mentor experience began with a big, scary announcement. I remember the whole Bradley Clan, my mom’s 12 younger siblings and all the cousins, were very excited when my mom walked into my grandparents’ kitchen with her Good News, “Sally-Ann Roberts is coming to our house…Sally-Ann Roberts is coming to our house!!!” As the news made its way to the back room where all the grandkids were, the shouts rang, “Bridget’s going to be on tv with the tv lady!” As the conversations went on about this “news lady” I became so overwhelmed and scared – I really didn’t want to meet her! But God’s divine plan was at work and how grateful I am to have met Sally Ann Roberts! Actually, after almost four decades, there are many names that fit my mentor, but I believe Angel is most fitting!
Being a mentor is not for everyone and it’s not always easy. Big Brothers Big Sisters is the organization Sally-Ann and I were matched through. Their mission in New Orleans is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported, one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever. Sally-Ann was meant for mentoring. I recall myself as a lonely, frightened and broken young girl. Growing up, my maternal grandmother was my “Mother”, the one I went to for comfort and security. My actual family – Mom, 15-year-old pregnant sister, and 3 brothers, one with Downs Syndrome – rented and never owned a house or car. We moved about every six months, sometimes because my mom couldn’t pay the rent even while working two or, sometimes, three jobs. I rarely saw her!
Sometimes we moved because the owners wouldn’t do anything about the shabby conditions. I literally grew up with cockroaches, mice and frogs coming into our houses. The living conditions were terrible at all of the eight houses we rented, so I would escape to “Mother’s house.” This is where most of my time was spent. My mom made sure every house rented was in walking distance to Mother’s house, until, one horrible day my mom set us down – once again – to say we were moving. But this time it was a distance from where I found my security and comfort. It was in the same city, but it would not be walking distance to my sweet grandmother. At 12 years old, my world just fell apart! But God’s divine plan was at work; my Angel was on her way.
Sally-Ann and I had sort of a slow start. I remember thinking, “She comes on television, she must be a millionaire! What will she think of me?” But, by our second meeting, the fear and timidity was completely gone. She would come for our visits faithfully, at least twice a month and sometimes more, to pick me up for another awesome adventure. It’s hard to put into words the anticipation I felt between visits and the thrill in my heart the day of each meeting. She exuded kindness, warmth and beauty; her spirit was just like my sweet “Mother.”
The first time I went to Sally Ann’s house I was floored! I had never seen such order and cleanliness, and it smelled so GOOD! Over forty years later I remember the scent. We would bake cookies, play board games and do crafts. But the best part was that Sally-Ann made me feel like my thoughts mattered. I had her undivided genuine attention. At twelve years old, I could tell when someone was just being polite; Sally-Ann made me feel like what I said was important and I began to think of myself as interesting.
Early in our relationship a developed a great respect for her. I trusted and adored her! I wanted her to be impressed and pleased with me. On one of our drives, while sharing a lengthy and detailed story of my week, Sally Ann stopped me and gently said, “Bridget, try not using the word ‘be’ so much.” Well, when I got home, I stood in front of the mirror practicing, making conversations with myself. And, from that day forward, I became quite the little English professor – with Sally-Ann’s help. I proudly brought my new English lessons to those in my circle. Now, I guess I’ve gotten a little rusty because my own children will correct my pronunciation of certain words! There are countless stories testifying to the powerful impacts of my mentoring experience. From exposure to the arts, operas, museums to festivals, restaurants, and long walks in the park with conversations filled with wisdom.
The years went on for Sally Ann and me. She was there for me through my rough adolescent years. I turned eighteen and aged out of the program, but she remained a mentor and friend. She had two beautiful little girls and a son. I went into the world with boldness and great confidence to find my place. Unfortunately, my immature confidence turned into arrogance and the Lord allowed me to fall to a place where I had nothing and nowhere to go. Humbly, I called to my Angel. I didn’t know if she would be able to help me or even want to; it had been a couple of years since we spoke. The help she and her then husband, Willie, offered me was a saving grace. They invited me to live with their family, in their new home, with my own bedroom. During these four years the touch from my angel was powerful. I didn’t deserve it. The responsibilities given to me showed I was trusted; the kindness was overwhelming. The judgement, NONE. My heart and life forever changed. I called on my Angel and she taught me, by example, how to call on God. When I left, Sally-Ann gave me cloth place mats and napkins w/ napkin holders. She said “Bridget, everyone should have a hope chest. One day you will have a house with a dining room, and you will pull this from your chest!” This past holiday, my family – husband of 27 years, our five sons and two daughters, sat around our dining room table sharing another year of laughter and love. Sally-Ann and I moved on from the roles of Big Sister/Little Sister. She has, by far, surpassed the mission of BBBS, “…one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever.” Perhaps our mentoring relationship is what inspired “Each One Save One.” Thanks to Sally Ann Robertson, my mentor, dear friend, Sister in Christ – my Angel.
SONYA MORRIS In Her Own Voice
Overcoming Adversity, Exceeding Expectations
It takes a village to raise a child. Those words remind me of the “villagers” who took time from their schedules and lives to mentor me. I grew up understanding that my Grandmother was my caregiver and guardian because my parents were absent. I also knew that because of my Grandmother’s age and disability, we were poor. Being the youngest of four raised by a retired, elderly woman there weren’t many options or opportunities available. I would receive hand me downs and whatever charity my Grandmother received. As a result, I was considered “disadvantaged” and the academic institution I was enrolled in at the time recommended that I become a participant in the Each One Save One mentoring program.
My first encounter was a visit from a woman, still in her work uniform, during my study break at school. She seemed like a tutor or one of the volunteers that would come to help students with homework and reading. Or, aware of my situation, I thought she might be a social worker wanting to know if there was anything I needed at home. We had received food and clothes before from the school to ensure compliance was met in our home.I learned that she was, indeed, at the school for me and that I wasn’t in any trouble. Instead, she was there to learn more about me and to offer her help and support. From there a friendship was formed. We developed a schedule and a plan for our visits. She told me she wanted to see me succeed, she believed that I could be anything I wanted, and, most importantly, she wanted me to have confidence in myself.
My mentor offered a listening ear, assistance with homework, a chance to have an ally that would advocate for me. She offered me her voice when I was afraid to speak out. As time went on, she was able to offer me and my Grandmother some basic necessities that we didn’t have and couldn’t afford. She helped me to appreciate that everyone needs help at times and that being in need did not make me less of a person. With her friendship and support, I applied to and was successful at Thurgood Marshall Middle Magnet and McDonough 35 Senior High College Preparatory School, both historically black institutions in New Orleans.” Although I lost contact with my Each One Save One mentor after Hurricane Katrina, my relationship with other mentors in my life remain strong. Their support and guidance encouraged me to give back to my community. Mentoring and mentorships continue to play a significant role in my life. Thanks to my participation in Each One Save One and the fostering of relationships I have experienced, I continue to mentor and remain actively engaged, supportive, and involved in my community because I learned at an early age that “each of us has the power to make a positive difference in someone’s life by paying it forward,” words borrowed from the late Kenneth Carter, another awesome mentor of mine.
I am grateful that Mrs. Cathy Harris and Mrs. Sally Ann Roberts received a vision to begin Each One Save One. I am also forever humbled and appreciative of the investments my mentors made with me. There love and support helped me become a married woman with two beautiful children, with a husband who shares a spirit of service and creativity, as I continue to do fulfiling work in my community and become a published author. Thanks to Each One Save One and all of those involved, for your vision and service. I am an example of the power of one.
With the help and support of mentors, I received my Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Sciences from Tulane University, while being recognized as a service scholar for my contributions to the community.
I’m currently enrolled in graduate school scheduled to receive a Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education Fall 2019 with a 3.54 gpa.
It is an great achievement because I am a first generation college graduate in my immediate family. Education and service to the community was encouraged by my grandmother because she was prevented from going to school due to race.” Because mentors saw my potential and not my circumstance I continue to pay it forward.
ALSHON SINGLETON: A Mentee with a Focus on His Future
Alshon, a high school student now, was having some challenges in middle school. Roy, his mentor helped him to turn all of that around and focus on his goal of becoming a personal trainer. Now doing well, he offers this advice to his peers, “…listen and be open, as well as receptive to having a mentor because you never know how powerful mentoring is until it impacts your own life.”
In 2015, while a student at Langston Hughes Academy in the 7 th Ward, Alshon Singleton was having trouble; “I was having difficulties remaining focused in school and keeping my hands to myself,” he explains. As a result, Alshon’s teachers decided to recommend him to the school-based mentoring program and he became an Each One Save One mentee. He was assigned to Mr. Roy Woodruff, a retired fire chief who spent his life dedicated to helping others and serving his community.
“When I met Mr. Roy he was cool,” Alshon says. “He showed me ways to focus and channel my energy. We did activities that included self-control and other games that helped me in class.” Alshon’s teachers noticed his improved behavior and his grades began to improve, too. Mr. Woodruff was excited to see the improvements and expressed his support and appreciation for Alshon’s hard work and progress. “I remember the time he treated me to an LSU game, which meant a lot to me because I also play football.”
“Mr. Roy is truly special,” says Alshon, “and I want to continue to be his mentee because of the impact he has had on my life and my family.” Alshon describes Mr. Woodruff as a role model. He hopes that others who are fortunate enough to have mentors will listen and be open to having a mentor; “You never know how powerful mentoring is until it impacts your own life.”
As for future goals inspired by the role model, Alshon would like to be a personal trainer and help people make healthy decisions in their life. “Just as I was helped to focus and stay focused, I would like to do the same,” concludes Alshon Singleton.Mentoring does not have a one-size-fits-all model, as proven by Alshon’s experience. Being assigned a mentor to help become focused in school resulted in a young man gaining a vision and becoming focused on his potential for the future.
Roy Woodruff echoes this enthusiasm regarding the opportunity to mentor and to meet Alshon through Each One Save One, bringing individuals together from different worlds. Mr. Woodruff says mentoring has been a wonderful experience, “The rewards are great. I’m getting back as much as I’m giving.”
He has had a powerful impact on his most recent mentee, Alshon. Alshon, now in high school, has been with Mr. Woodruff since 2 nd grade. “Our mentor and mentee relationship is great,” says Mr. Woodruff, “And I have a great relationship with Alshon’s mom.” The two have made a lot of progress, “We had a real turn around was when he was in 4 th grade,” Mr. Woodruff remembers, “His grades were horrible, and he was struggling with reading and spelling. I purchased a scrabble game and we played together, and it really helped him academically.” He also remembers that Alshon played trombone in school when he was in 6 th grade. He lost his mouthpiece and was really upset. Mr. Woodruff goes on, “I replaced it for him and he said, ‘You could be my daddy.’ And I said, ‘You have a daddy and he loves you very much. Besides, you could be my grandson. And he said, ‘I can be your brown grandson’”
Mr. Woodruff is a retired firefighter, he was a Chief in the 5th District in New Orleans where his son works now. It is hard to imagine something being as fulfilling as public service, but mentoring proves to be a rewarding way to give of yourself.
LIVING PROOF – Erica’s Mentee Story
“Our story goes back a lot of years,” started Erica, as she remembers meeting her mentor while in the 5 th grade at Medard Nelson Elementary School. The excitement in Erica’s voice as she tells her story sounds like someone sharing their favorite childhood fairytale, like she can’t wait to say, and they lived happily ever after.
“I was a child that wanted to be involved in all kinds of activities at school. So when I heard there was a special new program that was being introduced I was very interested.” Each One Save One had been introduced that year at Nelson and Erica was signed up to be matched with a mentor. That mentor, of course, was Leslie Lange. The two hit it off from the start. It didn’t take long for Erica and her mentor to see each other as family. “I told her I was going to be the daughter she never had,” said Erica, “and since then she has two additional granddaughters – my daughters!”
As Erica’s relationship with her mentor grew closer, Erica’s parents also became close to Leslie. “My family is Mrs. Leslie’s family,” Erica continues. They have shared transitions and milestones, proms and weddings, adjustments and accomplishments. “Ms. Leslie has been there for me through everything,”
Erica shares, “She has helped and encouraged me through all I have been through. Now I’m preparing to return to school to get my bachelor’s degree and she has encouraged me to do that.”
When the two met, Leslie was a manager at AT&T, “Now I’m a manager at T-Mobile store and, as a part of the employee assistance program, they will assist me with returning to school at no cost to me. I cannot wait to return and finish what I started.” Erica took a break from her academics, previously enrolled at SUNO, to become a mother. But she never gave up on her dreams – and Leslie never gave up on supporting and encouraging her to pursue her life goals. “That’s what I love about her – and her mentoring,” says Erica, “It is always good to have someone that is a voice of reason or who can provide a listening ear, and that is what I have. “To be honest” Erica adds, “working in retail, it is hard to be flexible. I am so happy to have the support I have from my husband and Ms. Leslie.” When things slow down, Erica plans to become a mentor, herself, to share all she has gained and learned from her participation in Each One Save One. “I am living proof that the program works.”
MENTORING CHANGES LIVES
Once a mentor interacts with a child, both their lives are forever changed.
HELP CHANGE A LIFE – BE A MENTOR
Read more information about how you can become a mentor and turn someone’s life around.