Recently I enjoyed a sit-down at Java Joe’s with two creative educators, Tony Gerlicz and Todd Lopez. Tony founded the Monte del Sol Charter School and later, the Mandela International Magnet School. Todd is executive director of SEED, a nonprofit that administers mentorships for youth through Inspire Santa Fe.
Over the years, both have developed hundreds of mentorships in which a young person studies a subject of his or her choosing for an entire school year. By partnering a student with an adult, mentorships become immersions in creativity and understanding. The end result may be a performance, a product or a research paper. Civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson could have been talking about mentorships when he wrote: “You can’t understand most of the important things from a distance. You have to get close.”
Last fall, Tony recruited me to assist a 16-year-old Mandela student who requested a mentor in creative writing. Tony knew I was a published author and a volunteer tutor at Mandela. The young woman and I met twice a week for 30 minutes, beginning in October. She brought her writing to each meeting and, as Tony later observed, “She caught fire.”
As she tasted the discipline required in an artistic endeavor, her writing skills blossomed. By April, she had compiled a portfolio of 10 stories, wisely crafted, sometimes funny and often moving. Each captured special moments in her childhood with her late grandfather. With the addition of photos and artwork, she ended up with a professionally printed chapbook of stories, a testament to the love she and her grandfather shared.
Tony and Todd told me they dream of one day matching mentors to every Santa Fe young person who wants one. They added that the unique blending of interests and imaginations between my student and me was common to mentorships and often transformative.
Transformation was in the air last February when I joined a large crowd on the Santa Fe Plaza, energized by the eloquence and passion of young people speaking in the aftermath of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting. An audience was similarly enthusiastic at May’s “Santa Fe Mentoring and Tutoring Collaborative Festival of Learning” held at SITE Santa Fe. More than 60 students welcomed visitors, including Mayor Alan Webber, to booths showcasing the imaginative results of their mentorships.
The imagination demonstrated at the festival would be useful in addressing social concerns such as immigration, for which solutions seem particularly elusive. Thoughtful discussions are thwarted by a proliferation of superficial and misleading labels such as “invaders,” “infestations” and “freeloaders.” Labels obscure sound thinking, enticing us away from equitable policies that the country could be proud of. The solutions in all their complexity await those who can “get close,” in person or in imagination, to understand the will and courage of adults and children who place their lives in jeopardy to come to this country for a better life.
The sheer enormity of the issues facing us can feel overwhelming. But each day brings the promise of innovative ideas, like the imaginative proposals to sweep up the mountains of plastic filling our oceans. Our future resides in the hands of people who can access and apply their creativity to problems large and small.
What if Santa Fe could offer mentorships to all of its students? Who knows which of our young people, encouraged to access their imaginations, might one day hatch an idea to change the world? We adults can actively support mentoring programs in Santa Fe (visit sfmentortutor.org). For one, I am eager to begin the school year in another mentorship, maybe even two.
Olin Dodson is an author and a volunteer writing tutor for Santa Fe Public Schools.