You have signed up to be a mentor.
You are connected to your first mentee.
You want to use your time to build your relationship with them, but also have the opportunity to expose them to a variety of activities and places, help them build skills and give them an appreciation for all there is to do in our area. We caught up with Christine Perez – a longtime mentor and a provider in our Independent Practice Association (IPA). She is the self proclaimed “Queen of Free” and goes above and beyond to plan out excellent experiences for those she mentors.
Below she shares some great ideas and tips to get you started in your mentoring journey.
When choosing mentoring activities, I always keep in mind that I’m not just choosing something for the mentee to do for and hour or two and that’s that. I am seeking out free or low cost (but memorable!) experiences to show them that you don’t have to have a lot of money to have a really fun time. That’s something that was instilled in me by my parents. I’m here to get kids to try new things and be comfortable in new places.
Diverse experiences open up their horizons.
What’s also really magical to me is that mentoring outings are providing something that mentees can go back and share with their families. Hopefully when the child is done with the mentoring program, the family can experience these new things together in the future, with the child leading the way. This is truly how mentoring strengthens individuals and helps ICAN fulfill their vision of Keeping Families Together.
Here’s a few of my mentoring “secrets” and favorite activities. I hope it gives you a springboard to having some great experiences and adventures with the youth you are working with.
Every year, I buy The Smart Shopper and the Around the Town books. For a total of about $35, you’ll get the money back in about two to three months. Those books include a good selection of buy one get one deals at restaurants, discounts on mini golf tickets, museums, and a lot more. I’m also a huge Groupon fan and while not a physical book, it gives you tons of deals in the palm of your hand.
I do get on some email lists and ideas come to me that way, but Google is where it’s at. As I’m planning out my week, I will throw “Things to do this weekend in Central New York” into the search bar and it usually leads me to some great options. I work with kids in Utica and Syracuse and let me tell you, there’s a LOT of things to do within a quick road trip.
Libraries are rich with programming for kids that range from arts and crafts, movie showings and reading (of course!). Many have dedicated kids areas and computers. I frequent Dunham Library in Whitesboro, Utica Public Library and Jervis Library in Rome. I also love Waterville Library where they have The Barton-Brown Observatory.
Partnerships with Other Organizations
Midtown Utica Community Center has great programming and people, Mohawk Valley Latino Association’s new location on Scott Street in Utica partnered with an amazing horticulture program last year. Get on their radar, make some contacts and keep the communication flowing - it will lead to great opportunities for your kids.
You never know when a local business will step up to support the mission of mentoring. I recently helped work out a partnership with Rome Cinemas where any ICAN mentor with their I.D. can get $6.75 admission any time of day.
Walking through a Farmer’s Market is always eye opening. Swinging by train shows, festivals, fireworks, arts and craft shows, events at Handshake.City, the sidewalk Art Show at MWPAI, cultural festivals like the Latino Festival. Many of these are great opportunities to spend time walking outside being exposed to new things (people, music, food and more!).
Take a good inventory of all of the restaurants in your area and see which offer free meals to kids on certain days/times. IHOP has free meals for kids any day after 4pm and Denny’s 10 and under free on Tuesdays.
I taught cooking classes for many years. One of my mentees recently got a new stove in their apartment and that was an activity they requested. It was a delicious way to spend time together while teaching all that cooking has to offer – preparation, timing, safety, seasoning, plating, etc.
Especially in the summertime, free music pops up in towns and cities alike and we love it! The Levitt AMP Utica series downtown is a favorite because it’s family-friendly and has art activities each week. The many new food truck rallies in Utica, Herkimer, Ilion, etc. usually will have live music acts each week, too.
Keep a look out for locally owned and national stores holding pop up classes – Michael’s holds art classes and Home Depot has some fun offerings as well.
We have some great teams in our area in a variety of sports in ALL seasons – Utica College Hockey, Utica Comets, Utica Blue Sox and Mohawk Valley Diamond Dawgs to name a few. It’s fun to learn the intricacies of the games, get caught up in some fun fan fanatics as we cheer on our home team.
Listen to the Radio
I listen to the radio a lot and any contest they have for tickets to sporting events, fairs, concerts/music events and the like, I’m calling in. You never know!
Stay at Home
A common misconception is that you have to be out doing something for every mentor visit. Sometimes you don’t have to go anywhere. I’ve been known to play board games right at home with the mentee and a parent or sibling. That helps them spend good time together and strengthen bonds within their family.
This, like I said, is just a start. If you have any ideas to add to the list, I’d love to hear them so we can collectively keep making rich experiences for our area’s youth.
I say all the time that it takes one person to change somebody’s life. It could also take just one visit, activity, performance, place or experience to spark an interest and change the trajectory of a young person’s life. Mix it up. Seek new things out. And keep the opportunities coming.