by Elliot Campbell
I signed up for the Youth Mentorship Program last fall because I liked what I saw in the short blurb about it that filtered through my email account. It said that there was an opportunity to invest in the success of a group of young students in a disadvantaged area of Toronto, not far from where I was (and still am) living. That fit – I had been looking for something to do outside of class and this spoke to my previous experience mentoring and tutoring. I find there’s a unique satisfaction in celebrating the success of someone else; someone that you’ve had the privilege of working alongside, and encouraging, and sharing in some struggle with.
So I signed up, and interviewed, and was told I fit the bill! But then came the twist: the program is dynamic, driven by partnership with Veronica Broomfield, the exemplary teacher who started it all several years ago. And sometimes the parameters would change, so we’d have to be able to work with whatever structure emerged as things got rolling. That sounded okay, until it emerged that the focus would be creative writing that year! I can guarantee that as a (mostly) life science student, I never would have volunteered if I’d know that up front. But I had committed, so come February it was off to Portage Trail two mornings a week to get to know the group and see what would come of the endeavour.
The group was great; a mix of persons and personalities, some easy to connect with and some not so easy. But in all a refreshing desire to write something, to produce something of their very own. At first I was unsure how to proceed as a mentor but as I got to know the students I stopped worrying about myself and started thinking about them and their ideas, and wanted to hear more. It seemed the most valuable thing we had to offer was encouragement, another person to bolster their confidence in letting out what was already within. I may not have written much but I do love stories. I always have, and that same unique satisfaction of celebrating another’s success was there in helping encourage brand new stories to come out into the world.
It was great! It was fun. I liked it so much I came back this year to help organize the program. And towards the end I realized that the original advertisement hadn’t been false. We did invest in the future success of young students. We did give a window into the experience of university. We did help to overcome barriers that many of these young students will face as they move forward in academic life. Don’t hear me wrong. We didn’t smooth all the bumps out of the path of 8, or 9, or 10 more years of study ahead. There’s only so much you can do a couple of mornings a week for a few months. But those students accomplished something concrete. They wrote a book of their collective creativity and published it. They saw and expressed value in themselves that can grow into strength of character to sustain them in challenges ahead.
That’s what the Youth Mentorship Program is about. This year again, we will work together through the same medium of creative writing. And this year we will again build confidence to last for years to come. This program is a great opportunity to give of oneself and to see another flourish. That’s more than worth two mornings a week, for a few months!
Neuroscience and Health Studies Majors, class of 2018
YMP Assistant and past volunteer