by Treva Olivero
From the Editor: Treva Olivero is the coordinator for mentoring and outreach projects at the National Center for the Blind. In the following article she reports on a highly successful mentoring activity that took place last March. This is what she says:
Henry David Thoreau once said, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” This is the message we strive to instill in the participants in the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute’s National Center for Mentoring Excellence (NCME) program. It was the theme of two weekend seminars called Future Quest that were hosted by the Jernigan Institute Education Team at the National Center for the Blind in March.
The NCME connects blind youth age sixteen to twenty-six with confident blind role models. Our purpose is to increase mentees’ knowledge and participation in the vocational rehabilitation process. The ultimate goals of this program are increased postsecondary academic success, high-quality employment, and community integration.
The primary goal of Future Quest was to prepare mentees for future employment. Over two weekends ninety-five mentors and mentees participated in this opportunity. March 6 to 8 participants from the Ohio Mentoring Program and the CHANGE (Connections Helping Another Navigate and Gain Excellence) Mentoring Program in Texas joined us. March 13 to 15 we hosted participants from the U’nME (Utah Network for Mentoring Excellence) and mentors and mentees involved in the GEMS (Georgians Empowering through Mentoring Success) Program.
Saturday morning started with mentees’ attending sessions on advocacy skills and how to get needed services and make informed choices. The mentors attended an inspirational session about their roles in mentees’ lives and how to help them reach their future goals. Small group discussions gave the mentors and mentees opportunities to discuss blindness issues and grapple with difficult questions about blindness and the future. “I learned that blindness is not so much a disability but a mere physical characteristic,” said Daniel Martinez, a mentee from Texas.
Job panels were offered with blind people who have interesting jobs, including a lawyer, a NASA employee, a teacher, a newspaper reporter, an actuary, a chef, an electrical engineer, and other careers to show that blindness should not limit the mentees from pursuing their dreams. Jordan Mouton, a Texas mentee, commented, “It was inspiring and comforting to be able to learn of all the different careers that some blind people have been successful in; it just gave me more to look forward to.” Mentees had the opportunity to network with positive blind adult role models, some of whom were on the career panels. The mentees were taught how to carry their plates of hors d’oeuvres and use their canes to walk around the room and introduce themselves to professionals. Real-world mock interviews were conducted, in which mentees were challenged with tough interview questions. “The mock interviews were very helpful because I have never had a job interview and honestly had no clue what to expect. So, being in the mock interview gave me an opportunity to get a little taste of what to expect and gave me a better understanding of how to work around or deal with a interviewer that is very tough or critical on the whole blindness factor,” Jordan Mouton commented. The mentors and mentees were also taught about the value of attending an NFB training center from graduates of these programs. Hannah Furney, a mentee from Ohio, said, “I decided that I am going to a training center after I graduate with my bachelor’s degree. Now, I just have to figure out which training center to go to.” Other sessions during this action-packed weekend included a technology session, a tour of the International Braille and Technology Center, and tours of the Independence Market.
On Saturday evening we held a banquet at which mentees were taught etiquette and the arrangement of a banquet table. Keynote speakers inspired them to follow their dreams. The events on Saturday concluded with rousing entertainment from the mentors and mentees. Ohio and Texas chose to entertain in an American-Idol-style talent show. The highlights were Ohio’s rendition of the song “Louie, Louie” about Louis Braille, led by Deborah Kendrick, the Ohio state coordinator, and Texas’s rendition of “Friends in Low Places” led by Richie Flores, the Texas state coordinator. Georgia and Utah made us all laugh until we cried with their improv comedy in an event we called “Whozit’s Line Anyway.” Named after the popular TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway, Garrick Scott and Cheralyn Creer, state coordinators from Georgia and Utah, led the group in the hilarity.
Future Quest was a time for mentors and mentees to focus on their future and to fulfill the purpose of this program. Robbie Huff, a mentor from Georgia, commented, “I thought it was a positive and fulfilling experience.” Annie Donnellon, an Ohio mentee, enthused, “Future Quest was to me my final wake-up call into the real world. It was a lesson in proper interview skills, an opportunity to network with friends, and my ticket to achieving independence.”
Future Quest is just one event in the NCME mentoring program that has produced positive results for youth. The Jernigan Institute Education Team strives to create programs such as these which can be replicated in all of our affiliates. Our desire is for our affiliates to use the Jernigan Institute Education Team as a resource and create youth programs in their states that use blind role models to show that blindness doesn’t have to be an obstacle. You can reach out to youth in your state and show them that they can go confidently in the direction of their dreams. For information about mentoring programs, call Treva Olivero at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2295.
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