If you want to transform your community for the better, the Friends First Mentoring Program at Mercy Home for Boys & Girls may be the perfect fit for you. Mentoring a child can change their life, and it’s a great way to give back to the community. Many kids are surrounded by negative influences and need somebody to set an example and coach them through life’s challenges. That’s why Friends First connects passionate, well-trained adults with kids in need of a positive influence in their life.

The transition from junior high to high school is often a difficult time in a young person’s life. This was the case for Alaila, a 14-year-old mentee in our Friends First program who was scared and nervous about the transition. Fortunately, she could rely on her mentor for guidance and support.

“One of her fears going in this year was that she wouldn’t have any friends at her new high school,” said Sonya Davis, Alaila’s mentor since 2017. “I certainly remember the challenges I had at the age of 14, especially with self-esteem and all the questions about relationships and family dynamics. This is an opportunity for me to use my time and maybe some of my experience and knowledge to be able to help her navigate through some of this.”

Prior to this experience, Davis had never been a mentor for a child. She was seeking out volunteer opportunities when she came across our Friends First program and decided to attend an information session where current mentors share their experience.

“It’s an opportunity to ask questions,” she said. “And then once you’re accepted, there’s training.”

After going through the matching process, Davis was ready to meet her new mentee. She wasn’t nervous, but she did have one question in the back of her mind: what kind of impact would she be able to have on a young woman’s life?

After going through the matching process, Davis was ready to meet her new mentee. She wasn’t nervous, but she did have one question in the back of her mind: what kind of impact would she be able to have on a young woman’s life?

Davis and Alaila met for the first time at Alaila’s home. Friends First mentors spend eight hours each month with their mentee; typically, by going on four-hour outings every other weekend.

“One of the first things I noticed about Alaila was that she was very talkative and just had a very big personality for being such a young woman,” Davis said.

Davis and Alaila began their relationship by finding common interests around which to plan activities. Some of their initial outings included the aquarium, going out for pizza, going to the beach with snacks and playing games.

As they spent more time together, Davis and Alaila found they had more interests in common than they thought. Their bond grew, as they took advantage of the amazing cultural opportunities that Chicago has to offer.

“We both love dancing, so we’ll take dance classes at Hubbard Street Dance Theatre,” Davis said. “She loves basketball, so over the winter we went to a bunch of college basketball games in Chicago.”

They also took advantage of events and activities that Mercy Home offers, like arts and crafts at our Craft Cottage, our Friends First holiday party and our summer picnic.  

Yet even with the most careful planning, schedules inevitably get busy and it can be hard for both mentees and mentors to always find time for weekend outings. That is why we encourage mentors to reach out to their mentees over the phone on a weekly basis.

“I know that Alaila looks forward to me calling, and if she happens to miss my call, she’ll call me back,” said Davis. “She’ll often say, ‘I can’t wait to tell you what happened at school today!’ Or, ‘I can’t wait until I see you on Saturday because I’m going to give you all the scoop on what happened these past couple weeks!’”

Mentors initially make a one-year commitment to their mentee, but after getting to know Alaila, Davis decided to commit to another year because she wanted something more than a one-time experience. In the Friends First program, she was able to find the fulfillment she was looking for.

“I like the long-term aspect to this mentoring relationship. When you volunteer at a food pantry or a soup kitchen, you have a very short-term, limited interaction with the people that you’re serving,” Davis said. “So, I just love the fact that Friends First is long-term and an interaction where our relationship can grow.”

“I like the long-term aspect to this mentoring relationship. When you volunteer at a food pantry or a soup kitchen, you have a very short-term, limited interaction with the people that you’re serving,” Davis said. “So, I just love the fact that Friends First is long-term and an interaction where our relationship can grow.”

Now that Davis serves as a strong role model and friend, she no longer questions whether or not she can make an impact in her mentee’s life. Instead, she realizes her life experience is a powerful compass to help guide Alaila through the obstacles of growing up.

“Just me being a young black woman who’s gone to college, gone through high school and my teenage years – Alaila can look up to me as someone that looks like her and has been able to navigate through and relate to her in that way,” Davis said. “That’s a positive influence for her. I also make sure to give her experiences that she may not have had before, and I also try to show her new things.”

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