Mentors are in short supply these days, but ask anyone who’s done it and they’ll tell you mentoring is one of the most rewarding volunteer activities a person can do. Midlands Business Journal interviewed three current mentors to learn why they got involved and what the experience has meant to them.
Amber R. Phipps
Children’s Hospital and
Years Mentoring: 7
When Amber R. Phipps relocated to Omaha seven years ago, she did so with the resolute aim to get involved within the community. Mentoring through Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands was the answer she was looking for.
“I have been blessed in my life to have had really strong mentors. I know I wouldn’t be where I am in my career without them,” she said. “I was really trying to think about the people who’d taken a chance on me, how can I give back?”
After training, Phipps was matched with Elaina, now a seventh grader. Relational trust took
time to root and so Phipps recalls leaning heavily on the organization for help in the beginning.
“They broke down these little skills on how I could incorporate things happening within the news or time of the year or within activities,” she said. “These techniques don’t cost money and really don’t take a lot, just being intentional and connecting with your little to see what’s important to them.”
For everything that has benefited Elaina through the relationship, Phipps insists it pales in comparison to what she’s gained as her mentor.
“The thing I like most about mentoring is the impact that you can have on another person and the impact they can have on you,” Phipps said. “I’ve gained an understanding of things she goes through every day that I’ve never experienced in my life. It’s opened my eyes to things I’ve never dealt with and it’s gotten me passionate about advocating for youth and their welfare.”
Nebraska Furniture Mart
Years Mentoring: 6
A company visit from TeamMates founder Dr. Tom Osborne may have hooked Andy Shefsky on the notion of mentoring, but it didn’t prepare him for how different and powerful the experience would be.
“Kids are unpredictable,” he said. “There were definitely times when I couldn’t tell if he was really getting anything out of this. And I’ve learned that is extremely common. Then there are the moments where they’ll either say to you or you hear them talk about how much you mean to them. I get inspired hearing that.”
Shefsky said even after years with his mentee Orion, a high school sophomore, he still doesn’t know exactly what each weekly interaction will bring.
“I really just cater it to what he’s in the mood for,” he said. “In elementary school, sometimes we’d meet in the library and play a game; other times, based on how he was feeling, he wanted to get something off his chest and we’d have some deep conversations.
Other times, we’d keep it light and just shoot hoops.”
Shefsky’s best advice for a mentor is to be open and focused on the simple connections to be made over time.
“With mentoring, many adults think, ‘What do I have to offer? I’m not a psychologist, I’m not a doctor, I’m just an average Joe,’” he said. “Once you’re able to overcome that and realize if you’re a good person, if you care, if you’re a good listener, that is 99.9 percent of the requirement. The rest takes care of itself.”
First National Bank of Omaha
Years mentoring: 4
Ask Betsy Vrba what special skills she brought into mentoring and she’ll laugh out loud.
“I am the opposite of someone who has experience with children,” she said. “I never nannied. I didn’t grow up with young kids in my house. I don’t have young cousins surrounding me.”
What Vrba did have was a love for the mission of Girls Inc. and after attending the organization’s annual luncheon a few years back, she was sold on participating.
“I saw the impact their mentors made,” she said. “I knew that I could make a difference just by giving my time.”
Vrba was matched with Samariè, now 13. Given her lack of experience, Vrba sought out organization’s volunteer coordinator for advice on finding her stride.
“I remember saying, ‘I just don’t know my role. I’m confused on what part I’m supposed to be playing in her life,’” Vrba said. “She gave me a perfect response; she said, ‘That’s for you to decide.’”
The advice freed both mentor and mentee to just be themselves and the relationship blossomed.
“Do we have everything in common? Absolutely not. Do we ebb and flow on what she wants to do and what I want to do? Absolutely,” she said. “Sometimes we ride bikes along the river. We’ve picked up trash on Earth Day. We’ve been to concerts. Honestly, there’s times we just make dinner together or we walk my dog and talk.”
“I’ve learned through this process that it is about showing up consistently for your mentee.
That’s what makes a good mentor.”