By Colinne McCann, IDPH Youth Mentoring AmeriCorps Member
*Youth’s name has been changed to maintain confidentiality.
Life is built up of experiences. Some you have been through over and over. Some you approach for the first time. Youth Mentoring strives to give local kids positive experience to help shape their life and their future. One way we do this is hosting a special event on a regular basis for kids and their mentors. The youth get to see a new part of their community, learn more about a hobby, history, or topic, or, for some, experience something totally new. For January’s event, the Decorah Rotary and Decorah Lions gave a donation allowing everyone in Youth Mentoring to attend the New Minowa Players production of Heidi.
Through this outing, youth were introduced to the world of acting and performance, exposed to the idea that entertainment is more than TV and movies, and taught the notion of supporting community theater. For this particular event, I served as a Mentor For A Day, allowing me to watch the play and spend time with mentee Joel, a boy on the mentoring waiting list. Before Heidi started, I asked, “Joel, have you ever been to a play?” and he told me, “No, this is my first time.” Many times this is the case within Youth Mentoring; we give youth in the community the opportunity to do things they may not otherwise get the opportunity to try. I enjoyed watching the play, but what I found even more rewarding was watching Joel and the other youths’ faces as they watched the performance unfold. It was like watching kids opening presents on Christmas morning.
During the intermission, I asked Joel if he had a favorite character. “The grandpa,” Joel replied. “Why did you pick him?” I asked. “Because he is so good at being grouchy,” he responded. I agreed with him, and we chuckled together. It was wonderful to hear that he was able to pick up the personality of the grandpa the actor was portraying. It showed how much Joel was really pulled into the play.
At the end, I asked Joel if he enjoyed the performance. He said, “Yes, it was funny, and the grandpa made me laugh.” “Would you like to come back for another play sometime?” “Well yeah, why wouldn’t I?” He said with a big grin. “I was just wondering,” I replied. “Yeah, I knew that,” Joel teased.
Beyond the Curtain
I think Joel will never forget the story of Heidi, and he will also always remember what it was like to attend his first play. It is amazing to me and humbling that I got to be part of his unique experience.
So what long-term benefits will Joel have because he was given the chance to attend a play? I do not know. Sometimes the events are catalysts for important conversations between mentors and mentees. Other times new experiences create a spark for a new hobby or interest in mentees. Who knows, maybe Joel will become involved in drama at school or later in his own life. Perhaps some day, he’ll be performing in another mentee’s first experience seeing a play, inspiring her to find her own creative outlet that she can share with the world.