I Was a Millennial Mentor at Citywide Speed Mentoring Day

By Rita Papadogiannis, CSR Coordinator at Viacom
Jul 6, 2018 11:45 AM ET

Originally published by NYC Service

As a twenty-something woman, my generation is more commonly associated with avo-toast and Keeping Up With The Kardashians rather than exceptional community service. So, when I was recently given the opportunity to support the NYC Youth Mentoring Initiative through Viacom's participation in “Good for Me. Good for My City,” I jumped at the chance to offer my own contributions and perspective.

On Wednesday, May 9, the campaign’s 2nd Annual Citywide Mentoring Day, I joined forces with more than 200 private sector employees in mentoring over 300 high school students in the five boroughs. I have been lucky enough to work with many exceptional mentors throughout my life, from family and teachers to supervisors and older friends.

Yet I have never really been anyone’s mentor before.

I sat down at the beginning of our session at Harlem Renaissance High School and glanced around the room, seeing my fellow mentors – experienced professionals who seemed to have done this many times before. The pressure was on.

My job in the weeks leading up to this event was to recruit employees from my job at Viacom to volunteer as mentors as well as observe the event for reporting purposes. And what better way to do that than to participate as a mentor myself?

All of the mentors sat together in rows, leaving empty rows of seats in front of them for the mentees to rotate around the room. Each session lasted less than ten minutes, which meant that I had the opportunity to mentor a handful of students before the event concluded.

Many of the teens I spoke with had spent extra time in school due to various hardships. One mentee, an 18-year-old high school senior, is a mother of an infant, and pregnant with her second child.  

Several students struggled in school, as English was their second language. Nearly all of these high school students were employed, and many had to call out of work to attend the session. These adversities – young motherhood, ESL and the pressure to be a breadwinner while still in high school – acted as barriers preventing them from experiencing academic fulfillment.

These teens are looking for any open door they could find to ease their burdens and make their dreams come to fruition.  

As the timer went off to mark the beginning of the session, a million questions flooded my mind.

What can I possibly teach them that they haven’t already heard?

How can they take me seriously when I’m just a few years older than them?

And then it clicked. I didn’t have 15 years of experience under my belt, but I did have the determination to accomplish my goals. I high school and college anecdotes of all-nighters and cramming for exams, which served as reminders of my resilience. I completed internships across the board, which granted me experience while allowing me the freedom to make mistakes in a safe environment. And I had a career I loved and could talk endlessly about for hours.

These were the stories I needed to share with the students sitting in front of me that day.

At the end of the day, your passion is what drives you most. Once you take that first step towards your passion, the first door will open with an opportunity presenting itself. Take it, and you’ll find another soon after. And another. Until one day, the walls disappear and all you see is a room full of potential…just like I saw at Harlem Renaissance that day.

I learned something about myself that day too; that there is no better way to confirm your passion than by inspiring others to chase their own.