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

My earliest mentor was an artist named Esme Bradberry who lived up the street from my family. She would open her tiny studio in her backyard to a few neighborhood kids and let us do whatever we wanted. Esme gave a few pointers and demonstrated some techniques, but for project ideas, she let us take the lead, offering only words of encouragement. My mom and dad still have some of my art from that time: painted plaster casts of toothpaste tubes inscribed with Silly String, glazed ceramic containers with no practical purpose, and many, many painted pet rocks. Later, in middle and high school, I was taught art by Karen DeMichael, an artist and art teacher, who continued to provide a guiding framework (sometimes quite literally) and let me be creative. Struggling with social relationships during that time, I found solace in the art room and with her open and accepting approach for everyone who want to make art. I also found comfort from her personal connection to me and support of my creativity.

Bay Area author and filmmaker Phil Cousineau, a keynote speaker at Friends for Youth's 2006 annual mentoring conference, describes mentors as "mind-makers," those who help others decide for themselves their path in life. This differentiates mentors from parents, teachers, relatives, and peers who each have important, specific roles and responsibilities of their own. One specific experience with Karen made it clear she was really a mentor and not just a teacher or even like a parent to me. For my senior year Advanced Placement Art portfolio, she let me pursue a project that, in hindsight, was pretty awful, lacking creativity and leaving the impression that I hadn't learned anything in that class. I did not receive AP credit for that class solely because of that project but she never told me I couldn't do it. She tried to work with me to add to it, change it, embellish it in some way to make it a better representation of my talents, but, in the end, let me do it my way. My parents, however, were concerned about my performance in all classes and I'm sure part of why I wanted to carry on was because of their response.

These experiences with Esme and Karen had many impacts on me, influencing my choice of career as an artist and art therapist, my belief in the power of creative expression, and my strong support of mentoring young people. I know that I must pass it on, helping another young person know that he or she can go from a ceramic cup (pictured above, circa 1979) to the Mentoring Journal with encouragement, education, practice, and support!


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