The focus of the WMI program is generally on the mentee. The goal is to have that person gain something positive from the relationship that will help her move forward in a positive direction. However, there are times when the mentor gains much more out of the relationship than they had even anticipated.
Betty came to WMI as a volunteer mentor approximately a year after her husband had died. She had a lot of time on her hands and felt like it was a good time to get involved in the community again. She was a wonderful mentor to Jane, the woman she was matched with, who struggled with many issues, including family relationships, low-income and mental illness. Betty was truly there for Jane, as a friend. She listened to her issues, tried to understand them, offered her opinion appropriately and asked for help or advice from the Program Director when she needed it. At the end of the year, Jane stated that she really enjoyed their time together and appreciated the help and companionship that the mentoring relationship had provided her. At the same time, Betty said that the mentoring experience was one of the best things she had done that year. She explained that the year after her husband died was a terribly difficult time for her. Being a mentor not only gave her something to do, it allowed her to think about someone other than herself. She felt she learned more about herself through the relationship and was very grateful for the experience.
Another woman, Kate, volunteered as a mentor about the same time as Betty. She was matched with a mentee, Ann, who had recently been divorced. Ann had come from another country where she had an advanced degree and had been employed for a few years. She had stopped working after she got married and had children and had not worked in many years. In addition, her degree was not recognized in this country, so she really had to go back to school here in order to get a good job. Ann had three young boys and received no child support or alimony from her ex-husband who was out of work himself and living off the trust fund of his new girlfriend. Kate was able to provide friendship and support as well as sound career and parenting advice to the Ann. During the course of their year together, it happened that Kate unexpectedly found herself in a similar divorce situation. Throughout the rest of their time together the Kate stated repeatedly that she drew strength from Ann and that she was a true inspiration to her. She felt fortunate in a way to have witnessed Ann dealing with a very difficult situation. She said that many people, including her, might not be as pro-active given the same circumstances; and when Kate was feeling like she couldn’t cope with her own life, she would think of her mentee and realize that she had to move on and deal with the situation. Kate shared these feelings with Ann that was a great boost to her self-esteem. Around the time that their year together ended, Kate moved to New York City. The two women plan to stay in touch and at their last “official” meeting together they talked about getting together in the City, when Ann’s children were with their father for a day.