My Mentoring Story (A Series by Friends for Youth Staff)

Kristen's Story.

I can credit many great influences on my life, many people who have stood as mentors to me. I am very blessed to have had a loving and supportive home in which my parents looked after my well being and did their best to guide and direct me. I have had a few great teachers in my many years in school that have undoubtedly influenced my very perception of reality and thus provided some mentorship, with or without their full knowledge of the impact they have had on me. To narrow this entry to outline just one is truly a challenge for me, but in my effort to keep on topic, I’ll speak of a mentor who very specifically saw something in me worth fostering and continues to be my confidant, teacher, and dear friend.

I came to know Mrs. Jeri Fujimoto through my work at the City of San Carlos; or rather, she came to know me first in hiring me. I was working at a local salon, recent graduate from the community college’s Cosmetology program, and freshly licensed for fabulousness. As it turns out, being trained to become a master colorist (aka mixing color for NYC industry legends and sweeping hair up) doesn’t pay all that well, especially in the face of paying off school loans. I was looking for a supplemental income, a part time job close to home and other work. A friend recommended a position as a recreation leader at what I would come to call my second home, the San Carlos Youth Center. Working with youth came natural to me; I was raised in a home that was also a day care, ran by my mother.

My & Jeri’s relationship was one typical of subordinate and superior at first; moreover, I feared her. She would not accept less than 100% and was quick to tell you when you were slacking. This management quality coupled with a sense that this lady put up with no one’s crap kept me at arm’s length to her and preferably on her “good side.” It didn’t take long to know that this lady was in the business of improving the lives of youth, but wasn’t for years till I came to have a full appreciation for who this lady is and what her primarily goal with her staff was.

What makes Jeri an amazing mentor was first what makes her an amazing leader; her vision. She imagined a safe and well maintained place for all youth to come and grow in. She led the pack on incorporating the 41 Developmental Assets into her programming and all other elements of Youth Development she had her hands on (lots too!). Furthermore, she saw her staff and youth commissioners as the ambassadors and future leaders of this vision and movement. Jeri made it her priority to not only set the standards in her field but to also ensure that through working under her, she fostered the skill and urgency for her work to continue past her time. It became clear to me that she was interested in all Youth Development, and wanted this to reach legislature as an urgent and important topic.

Now the more personal side of things… I worked under Jeri and her cohorts in every youth avenue at the City for more than eight years, four moves, three family deaths and one parent’s move out of state. She acted as a second mother to me in my scholastic, personal, health and romantic crises. She encouraged my experience in different programs and I realize now that she was helping me identify my own niche. She saw my desire and passion for helping misguided and underserved youth and she fueled my drive to find a place where I could make a difference for youth in my community ((Friends for Youth!!)).

I realize now more clearly than ever that every time Jeri made me “do it over again” it was because she knew that I could do, be better. Every time she pushed me improve a program, reexamine a budget, or made me explain “why?” I proposed to execute a plan, she did it for my own clarity, skill building and sense of accomplishment. I had never been so proud of my own accomplishments before I worked under her. She made me deserve the credit, own every project and make it undeniably purposeful.

Jeri is my personal and professional mentor. I still check-in with her about major life choices and opportunities. She took the time to get to know me, identify my needs, skills and talents and provide me with the opportunity to improve not only my career path, but myself as a whole. She is the first to sense when I am overwhelmed, and the only person that can speak reason to me at times. She knows my weaknesses and she has always provided me the space to make mistakes, and then help to fix them through guidance and advice. Jeri is my mentor not only because she is a revered and accomplished professional, but because she knows that the only way to make positive change happen is to elicit change in all contributing parties. She made me feel proud and important to the organization I served working three or forty hours a week because she made me understand how crucial the impact of just one person can be on another.


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