The Green Dot Mentorship Program kicked off its second year with the first ever face to face encounter of mentors and students at Ánimo City of Champions Charter High School after starting virtually during the 2021-2022 school year in both Los Angeles and Memphis.
Mentors from various partner companies met for the first time in person and shared experiences over the summer. At the ‘Match Day’ event, they set up new projects and goals with students from tenth and eleventh grades in the South Los Angeles school.
Theo Ossei-Anto, Green Dot’s Director of Mentorship, welcomed both mentors and mentees and shared his enthusiasm for this year’s program, while confirming that the number of mentors has doubled. He also expects that the experiences to be learned during the next few months will clear the way to expand mentorship to all grades in high school as well as to other schools.
“I’m just so excited… We had our first year where we did it all virtually, we had a lot of successes and we learned a lot to come to this point where mentors and mentees are meeting each other in person,” said Ossei-Anto.
The mentorship program started this past school year with 38 mentors and students from City of Champions and Hillcrest High School in Memphis. This year, 76 mentors will guide students from both schools in getting their resumes ready, sharing their college experiences, as well as how to look for work once they finish school.
Ossei-Anto added that many other companies have joined the founding partners of the program, which include FedEx, Lionsgate, Treedom, Chartmetric, Pacific Charter School Development, Snap Inc and PerkinisCole, among others.
“We have a lot of companies which have extended their support. We are really excited about that. Our plan and our hope is that we can expand this program to all the schools in the Green Dot network. It is closer than it was before, now that we have the opportunity to be in multiple grades.” said Ossei-Anto.
Giving back to the community
Karina Vasquez grew up in the South Los Angeles community where City of Champions is located. An employee of Citizen Business Bank, becoming a mentor was a no-brainer for the Hispanic woman, who still feels part of the neighborhood where she went to school not too long ago.
“To me, it really seemed second nature, because I grew up in this community. I grew up down the street from here. I went to high school very close to here. This community is very dear to my heart. I really felt that I was able to identify with the students,” said Vasquez. “Last year we had five students per three mentors in a group. It was a very interesting dynamic. Sometimes, it was a bit difficult because it was done virtually but I still felt a kinship with every single one of the students.”
The Green Dot Mentorship Program is not the first time as a counselor for Vasquez. Before receiving the call to join the program, she was a volunteer with the Youth Business Alliance, doing mock interviews with high school students, similar to those we conduct at Oscar De La Hoya Ánimo Charter High School in Boyle Heights. Now, she’s had the opportunity to work with students to present them how the real world works outside of the classroom.
“I really feel that why I like to offer my mentees is a real-world point of view. I talk to them about what to expect when they go out in the real world,” adds Vasquez. “I know that if I had somebody at their age to tell me what to expect it would have been a lot different. Who knows, it could have gone in a good direction or a better direction. “
Vasquez had the opportunity to meet face to face with two of her returning mentees, eleventh graders Daniela Reyes and Daniel Thomas, who were looking forward to meeting her in person and continuing the sessions that were held virtually last year.
“ Talking to her [in person] is more interesting and helps us more,” explains Reyes.
“It’s comfortable, because we already saw her on Zoom and now, we are face to face. It gives us more opportunity,” Thomas points out.
Showing others the right path
Lionsgate’s Alex Gerarte and Tiffany Cruz are also returning mentors. For them, it’s all about giving the students the same opportunity they had starting their careers, only this time they will give them that chance in high school.
“For me it was just knowing the impact my mentors had on me and still do,” said Gerarte. “Going into school and going into my career I really didn’t know what I was doing, and those people helped me along the way. So, when the opportunity came up with Green Dot, it made sense to do the same with other people.”
Just like the other mentors, Gerarte and Cruz communicate with their mentees virtually, which allowed them a lot of flexibility in making the connections with the students. Going face to face will give them the opportunity to have a more direct interaction and openness as they guide them during the next school year.
“I think it took a while because it was virtual, but over time the connections started to solidify with more of the activities. I think that was very helpful,” explains Cruz, who works in media production at Lionsgate. “I’m going to try as the year goes to see what inspires them and try to do that for them.”
Gerarte praised the Mentorship Program as it navigated through its first year during the COVID pandemic. During the Mentorship Match Day at City of Champions, the Lionsgate budget specialist was able to meet one of his mentees in person.
“The first year was only great because they designed such a comprehensive program that I didn’t feel lost in any way,” adds Gerarte. “I liked this day. There was one student that didn’t have a camera on and it was nice today to see everyone and being interactive, like being able to see body language.”
Everybody deserves a champion
Ossei-Anto is excited with the increase in participation from students in the second year of the Mentorship Program, seeing students that were not interested in being part of this opportunity in the 2021-2022 school year.
“It's so cool to see how excited the students are to be in the program. We have a lot of students who are back from last year and what’s even cooler is seeing students last year who were a little bit skeptical, kids who didn’t participate, had the chance to try and chose not to, and there kids in the room who said to my face, I’m not going to be in the program and now they are here,” said Ossei-Anto.
With the broadened participation in both mentors and mentees, the director of the Mentorship Program expects the relationships that started last year will solidify this semester and will prove to be important in getting students ready for College, Leadership and Life as well as helping them become leaders in their communities.
“Everybody deserves a champion; everybody deserves a mentor and every successful person in the world has had somebody who supported them to get there. For our students, I want them to be open to the idea of having a professional mentor who supports them to reach their goals and dreams. And for a mentor, I’m really excited for the one-on-one relationship that they will be able to develop with our students, get to know our students and hope that they will help them to make our communities better,” concluded Ossei-Anto.