Girls’ Empowerment Mission (GEM) had only been around for a year when Erin Fitzpatrick began mentoring a GEM girl. She was nervous, but that’s to be expected. “Anything new is a little bit daunting,” she says. “I wondered if we were going to get along, if she’d like me, if I’d like her, and how involved I’d need to be. It’s normal to have reservations and feel uncomfortable, but it’s worth it to step out of that box.”
Erin is grateful she became a mentor. “GEM girls face incredible challenges, but they’re amazing despite those challenges,” she says. “The girls are resilient and overcome so much with the help of a mentor. More than half come from a single-parent home, and mentors help give them an extra support system from an adult perspective.”
To help ensure success, GEM proactively prepares its mentors to participate in the program. “The organization is great at covering all the bases and puts a lot of tools in place for what is expected of everyone involved,” explains Erin. “We go through trainings to help us be good mentors and understand what limitations and possibilities exist. The girls and their parents are also trained on how to be a good mentee and a parent of a mentee.”
The GEM program offers the chance to foster a mentor-mentee relationship closely for at least three years. Although, once a GEM girl, always a GEM girl. In fact, Erin and her mentee still keep in contact 11 years after she graduated high school. “She came to my wedding and today she’s grown up and has a baby of her own,” she says. “Now, my kids are older and I have some more time, I’m mentoring another GEM girl because I still feel like I have more to give.”
Mentors do a lot for the girls, but the girls do so much for their mentors in return. “She teaches me like I teach her,” explains Erin. “The problems and challenges that arise in a teenager’s life today are much different than when I grew up. It’s more than learning the cool lingo; I gain a teenage perspective on life’s issues, which helps me provide the kind of specific support she needs from me.”
“She also keeps me feeling young, which challenges me to do something I wouldn’t have done on my own,” adds Erin. “I’ve never been a big Halloween fan, but my mentee wanted to go to a haunted house and it turned out to be great fun. We age pretty quickly, and it’s definitely great to see things through the eyes of a young person. I’ve now mentored twice, and it’s worth it 100 times over.”
GEM mentors are volunteers who are an essential part of GEM’s large and extended family, helping girls reach their full potential. To learn more about becoming a mentor, visit www.GEMmaryland.org/mentor.