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April 14, 2010 > Counseling Corner: Mentoring local girls, making a difference

Counseling Corner: Mentoring local girls, making a difference

By Anne Chan, PhD, MFT

Never doubt that one person or a small group of people can make a tremendous difference in people's lives and communities. I would like to share one such story of two local women who have created something pretty special in Fremont.

It all began when Luzmarie Vallejo joined the Fremont branch of the American Association of University Women in 2007 and decided she wanted to start a mentoring program for girls in Irvington High. Her daughter, Mrs. Valesquez, a school counselor, helped identify girls interested in partnering with a mentor. Vicky Baker, another enthusiastic AAUW member was also interested in setting up a mentoring program at Kennedy High because she had taught English there for 20 years. They both pitched in, and before you could say, "Let's Make a difference!" a mentoring program was formed in which Irvington High, Kennedy High, Robertson High, and Centerville Jr. High girls were paired up with AAUW mentors.

Since Luzmarie and Vicky first dreamed up this idea, the AAUW mentoring program has matched 11 girls with mentors. Mentors do a variety of things with their mentees, including helping them get ready for college, coaching them on study skills, and giving advice and support.

Mary Lynn Pelican and Alice Alfaro, 17, are one mentoring pair that has met regularly since the inception of the AAUW mentoring program. You will see the two hanging together and sharing lunch every Wednesday of the school year. Even though they are generations apart, they get along beautifully. In fact, there is a dynamism and vitality in their relationship as both report enjoying each other's company and learning from each other.

Pelican, a longtime AAUW member who is currently facilitating as president during the month of April, notes, "Mentoring benefits both the mentor as well as the mentee - I love connecting with the students and the teachers at the high school. It has widened my circle of friendships by being on campus." Likewise Alfaro appreciates this chance to learn from someone other than a family member, peer or teacher. She says, "It's an opportunity for me to know Ms. Pelican. I don't know any senior who takes the time to talk to people who are not related to them. It's never me wasting her time or her wasting my time; we enjoy each other's company."

Alfaro says she has benefited a lot from Pelican's mentoring and feels more self-confidence after being under her wing for the past two years. Not only have they talked about critical life skills like saving money and job interviewing, Pelican has also introduced her to new opportunities to expand her horizons, such as leading an AAUW book discussion, attending a youth camp, and being a volunteer for the annual Tri-City gourmet extravaganza, "An Elegant Affaire." Alfaro says, "I have done things that I never thought I could do or that I thought I would enjoy." Even her teachers have commented on her growth since she signed up for the program.

Alfaro says that Pelican is not just her mentor, but a role-model and a hero as well. She respects Pelican's busy, active life and her many interests in diverse projects and organizations.

Pelican encourages everyone to consider being a mentor: "Everyone has a talent to give - it doesn't matter whether you are an introvert, outgoing, shy, academic - everybody has something to offer." According to Pelican, it doesn't take a special talent or expertise to mentor; nor does it take a whole lot of time. "Just be your best self - you don't even have to call it mentoring - just be your best self for someone else. Anyone can give, even if it's 10 to 15 minutes of your time." Best of all, mentoring is simply rewarding, not just for the mentee, but for the mentor as well. Baker adds, "Mentoring has been one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life."

If you'd like to make a difference in the life of a local girl, like Pelican has done with Alfaro, please contact the AAUW mentoring program: (510) 728-9700 or P.O. Box 8254, Fremont, CA 94537-8254. Of course, donations to the AAUW Fremont Branch are always needed and welcomed. Make check payable to AAUW Fremont Branch.

Anne Chan, Ph.D. is the author of Inspire, Empower, Connect, a practical guide for mentors who want to make a real difference in people's lives. Dr. Chan is also a career counselor and licensed psychotherapist in Union City. She specializes in helping people feel satisfied and fulfilled in their careers, lives, and relationships. She can be reached at (510) 744-1781. Her website is

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