Give back…And make it last

iMentor - waiting teen boy.jpg

One young man sits alone during a mentoring session — even though he didn’t yet have a mentor at this time. Which reminds me: Guys, we need you, too!

I always thought I would study engineering when I was younger. I took what today are STEM classes – chemistry, calculus and anything I could get my hands on to make a technical future possible.

Until Day 1 of engineering school orientation at Texas A&M. That’s when I learned that, unless I declared an area of specialization that day, mine would be Aeronautical Engineering.

At which point I promptly changed my major — to journalism. Never looked back.

Starting college is one thing

It took me twice as long as most people to earn just one degree, but I did eventually finish. What I wished I’d had in high school, though, was a college and career counselor.

I don’t know if this support system is any better now than 30 years ago, but why doesn’t anyone tell you to study what you’re naturally good at? I mean, I got the news from a friend of my brother who hardly knew me!

Still, even if you get into college, it’s a whole other thing to stay in. There could be a whole slew of reasons why it’s so hard, but in my case, my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer in what would’ve been my junior year. For two years, I worked odd jobs trying to help support my mom before realizing I wasn’t going back to TAMU and that I would have to forfeit my scholarships.

Perhaps feeling a bit rebellious, I tried next to travel the world as a flight attendant, only to ground my own travel career when I realized grief wasn’t a license to run away from reality.

Thank goodness my dad left me with perseverance. It took something like five tries before I earned my bachelor’s degree  – moving from city to city, school to school, earning credits, credits not transferring, withdrawing, re-enrolling. What a wild ride. Then I got married, still with two years of school to go.

I only hope my mentee has that “counselor”

So, that was me. Now, I mentor someone else who could very well face a first-generation college student scenario like mine. The difference is, this time someone will be there to catch her and keep cheering her on.

When we meet each month during the school year, a common theme in our conversations is how life often doesn’t run in a straight line…it’s a kind of winding thing. But we keep getting up and going — right turns, wrong turns…we keep going.

And she can totally do it. She can nail university studies. Heck, she could nail law school. I mean, this girl is smart and driven, and she can do pretty much anything she wants. Well, with the proper support system around her.

Family is (almost) everything

Thank goodness her parents are constantly encouraging her to excel in school so she can continue her studies in college. But even they don’t know what to expect or how to help her prepare.

That’s where Mentor 2.0 comes in.

I’d been seeking a mentoring opportunity for years. It started when I was a student at the University of Houston, where I eventually graduated, and where I’d seen a sign recruiting tutors for high school students at a school across the highway from campus.

Since way back then, I would get on mailing lists and wait for programs to spin up, when in 2016 I finally heard about Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Mentor 2.0 program.

The big sell for me was that Mentor 2.0 specifically targets college-bound high school students who may lack the support network needed to get them to and through college.

And honestly, Mentor 2.0 is really doable for the average working person:

  • One supervised, face-to-face meeting monthly (with mentors, mentees and super-committed school faculty and BBBS staff);
  • Simple, weekly assignments to collaborate on via a secure online environment, and
  • An optional note to the mentee in between assignments, via a secure chat tool, to help them stay encouraged.

The time commitment is usually about 30 minutes a week, with once-a-month meetings at about two hours each.

Now, don’t flinch: This is a four-year commitment. I mean, we’re not stuffing envelopes, friends; we trying to affect a whole lifetime, right? That takes a little commitment. For me after just one year, the payoff has already been huge.

So glad I did it

This is seriously one of the best commitments I’ve ever made. Not only are my mentee and I well matched (similar interests, goals and personalities), but she inspires me so much and makes me want to give her all the support I didn’t know how to find myself. (Heck, she even inspired me to return to school!)

I won’t lie, though: All the “woulda, coulda, shouldas” sometimes get in my head. It sometimes takes me a little while to shake it off and remember this is not about me.

An opportunity with loads of dividends

If you’re in a position to influence a young person’s life, do it. If you live in Colorado and can do it through Mentor 2.0 I’d be more than happy to connect you to this fantastic program.

The thing is, you just never know which other lives you might be affecting besides your student’s. Because when the mentee’s life starts to change, they will start to see themselves as an agent of change in the world.

And then there’s just no stopping them.

Help them get started. Join us.

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Warm thoughts from a warm culture

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In my work, I have the privilege of occasionally traveling to other countries.

I find it very special how in Latin America, people greet each other when they’re eating out – total strangers, even, wishing each other well. Buen provecho: Enjoy your meal. Sometimes just, Provecho.

In fact, they acknowledge each other whenever they are in another person’s presence just in passing, whether in a restaurant, elevator, hallway: good day, good evening, enjoy your meal, whatever. It’s a culture of acknowledgment and recognition.

In a world that’s drowning in devices and distractions, this tradition is a breath of fresh air.

Have/have-not, all rolled up into one

glass-half-full

I worked a job once that I hated but that I was really good at. Ever had a job like that? It’s a very weird feeling to go to work each morning and feel it will instantly bore you, and then get a compliment for it.

In this particular job, I had developed a plan my boss really loved. So much so that he told me, “Hey, you’re really good at this stuff.” I’m sure I smirked my best smirk. Not strategic, but hey, I was in my 20s and my “filter” was far from developed. Might still be.

After I gave him that look, he pensively and disappointedly said, “You know, I honestly can’t tell if your glass is half-empty or half-full.”

Our meeting was over, and I shuffled out to my office, silently bawling my eyes out. He’d called my bluff.

Maybe it’s turning 50 (aren’t you going to welcome me to AARP?) or maybe it’s having gone through some humbling experiences in the last few years, but I really think I spent much of my earlier years dwelling on what I didn’t have, rather than on what I did have.

Today, I don’t have the fast-paced career or the bigger paycheck or the jam-packed inbox (I don’t mind this one at all), and I’m not in the middle of all the action like I used to be. Well, not at work, anyway.

But you know what I am in the middle of? I’m in the middle of my own life for a change. I have a sense of calm and peace and availability for relationships that I didn’t have when I was in the rat race. I have time for my family, especially in a pinch. I just took a trip with my mom and husband that would have seemed logistically near impossible before. Heck, before, I’d never have dreamed of taking a vacation at all.

I just wish I’d spent more time in my earlier years valuing what I had, rather than what I didn’t have. I feel like the trip we just took opened my eyes to that, giving me a new perspective on how precious life and relationships are.

I’m figuring out how I’ll recap this treasure hunt of a trip we just took, but I can give you a hint about what I’ll be writing about soon: Let’s just say I’m finally getting to know Braulio.

Confessions of a sun worshipper

I admit it. I love the sun.

In the last few weeks, I have realized how much sunlight means to my sanity. I’m not just talking about for tanning purposes. Been there, done that; had a real bad sunburn in places sunburns shouldn’t go.

I’m just saying I appreciate the sun more than ever.

Image of fog settling over Rocky Mountains

How Colorado has looked for nearly one month – until today. Photo by Amber Van Schooneveld

No, really.

Colorado has seen more rain in the month of May 2015 than in any other May in history. That is unacceptable, folks.

But wait – it’s reality. Note to self: Suck it up. That’s what big kids do, right?

Meanwhile, back at Rancho Poor Mexican Gone …

I haven’t been able to crank out any content. I have blog ideas outlined or drafted – but every last one of them has been stuck behind the Publish button – or worse, stuck in my mind. Nothing could unclog them.

Anyway, some things have actually happened in the world of Poor Mexican Gone over the last few weeks:

  • My AncestryDNA test results came back – way earlier than I expected. Is that just “delighting the customer” or did I not have enough data in my tree? A new post on that soon. Interesting stuff.
  • More of Braulio’s peripheral family members and their records have shown up in my research, offering more validation (maybe 70%?) that he is in our bloodline.
  • Some great new fabrics came in to help me with my new quilting/sewing addiction (which requires much more time than anyone can imagine).
  • More freelance work has come my way – yay!
  • I’ve been playing more tennis, AND I got me some new kicks for the 2015 season.

So all that to say – it’s been an oddly overwhelming month, mostly in a good way.

But this weather!

And the angels sang

And the angels sang

Ask any Coloradan: If we don’t get our 300+ days of sunshine per year, we’re a collective, hot mess.

As you might have guessed, the sun finally came out today. We’re thrilled and hopeful, with all fingers and toes crossed.

And now maybe, just maybe, the sun will finally unclog the blog.

So close and yet so far

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 5.31.44 PMI felt like I was at a library of obscure books the other night when I googled “Coahuila, Mexico.” You know, so I can learn more about why, oh, why I can’t find my great-grandfather Braulio or any of his compadres.

But wow – the books I came up with, most of which are out of print or so rare you couldn’t possibly find them in any library or bookstore, are a treasure trove of (presumable) context and insight.

I’ve learned recently to search for obscure book topics or titles in Google Play, but who knew I’d come across stuff like this?

So I’m kind of overwhelmed now by what could either be a treasure trove (glass half-full) or a bunch more needles in my haystack (glass half-empty). The mind is getting weary and I might just be sucking my positive juice dry.

Now, if I could just find a book that can tell me what the heck happened to Saltillo parish records from the mid-19th century – a fire, flood, some disaster? – I might have more of a lead of what was going on in those days and whether it’s my great-grandfather who’s “missing” or just his records.

For now, a little spittle on a test strip for DNA-by-mail is going to have to do.

The next chapter … faster?

I know I won’t be the first to be hung up, possibly for years, on researching an ancestor.

But the optimist in me wants to believe my case will be different – that I’ll get a break of some kind and be able to forge ahead.

I’m not sure whether last night was “that” break, but the vetting and sorting process for getting to the bottom of my great-grandfather Braulio‘s history just got a whole lot easier.

Braulio-AncestryAs a beginner genealogist, I’ve gotten so much out of Family Search, although it’s easy to lose a lot of time due to the need to search manually from so much data.

Until recent weeks, I hadn’t really taken Ancestry.com seriously – mostly because, of all the data available on my family members, very little of it could be validated through actual documentation. Regardless how much I found, it seemed I’d always have to return to Family Search for validation or more research.

So I lost confidence in Ancestry’s validity – even though, I have to admit, the DNA test was becoming more tempting.

And then last night, I caught something on the Ancestry site that prompted me – finally – to download the mobile app, which I’d resisted because I thought it was only for photos.

I’ve never been so happy to be so wrong.

Let’s just say that, once installed, this app saved me hours upon hours – possibly days – of compiling peripheral family members around Braulio.

Sigh. For what it’s worth: I now love this (late) man dearly, merely due to how hard I am having to work to “know” him.

Anyway, I basically rebuilt my family tree within the app in just a couple of hours. Nearly everyone for whom I have records in past generations is now loaded into my Ancestry family tree.

Then tonight, I caved and bought the DNA kit (20% off through 4/27 this time around). Its results, I hope, will keep me busy for awhile by helping me discover within-scope ancestors and, by contrast, those who might not be in my lines.

As my friend Estelle likes to say, the beat goes on … And the mirror ball – my head – keeps spinning right along with it.

How I met Braulio … at Trader Joe’s

Vintage Trader Joe's signI was making a quick grocery trip today to our fairly new Trader Joe’s (finally, we’re a legit mid-size city). About to part ways with my checkout guy, I spotted his name tag: BRAULIO.

Naturally, I asked him about it. I mean, the same name as my great-grandfather – what are the chances?

We chatted about where he’s from, where my great-grandfather Braulio was from, and the origins of their shared name.

I wasn’t smart enough to take a selfie with the college-y looking Braulio (although I might try in the future).

But, I can say I met a Braulio. At Trader Joe’s.

While I’d love to claim I’d found my Braulio, it’s far too early for “mission accomplished.” Maybe it was a sign of some kind. Maybe my breakthrough is coming.