Mikia and Bill Armstrong: discovering the rewards of youth mentoring with Building Futures Now

by Linda Hubbard on September 20, 2010

Like many who become mentor volunteers, Mikia and Bill Armstrong were hesitant initially, reluctant to commit to being a presence in a youngster’s life for a year.

“I heard about Building Futures Now through my participation in the Menlo Masters swim program, which had teamed up with the nonprofit as a community project,” recalls Mikia, sitting in the living room of their Menlo Park home. “But the recruitment drive was almost over and the hope was to recruit two young male mentors. But I talked to Bill about the opportunity and we got the go ahead to meet with Jacob, then 9, and his family, even though we didn’t fit the ‘job description.’

“He was so quiet and reserved, such a sweet and intelligent young man. We took to him instantly and agreed to mentor him for a year. That was three years ago!”

The Armstrong have seen Jacob, who attends Edison School in East Palo Alto, open up to them as their relationship deepened and gain confidence, particularly in his interest areas of math and science. Bill gives a lot of the credit to Building Futures Now: “The organization does a really good job of identifying children who are facing obstacles in life and providing the extra nurturing that gives them a better chance to succeed.”

Mikia and Bill spend one day a week with Jacob, and are only absent when traveling. They are quick to point out that the relationship they’ve built is reciprocal.”We’re not doing it all for him,” says Mikia. “He’s giving us so much back. We’re learning about his community and culture.”

Adds Bill: “We’ve gotten to know his grandmother particularly well – she’s wonderful.  Being connected with a new family is extremely rewarding.”

The one-day-a-week that was initially a responsibility is a now a day they look forward to. “The hardest part is dropping him off at the end of the day,” says Mikia. “We hope to be part of Jacob’s life for the long term.”

Building Futures Now selects a dozen or so high potential, under-served third graders from east Menlo Park and East Palo Alto each spring but mentor recruitment is in high gear now, with mentor kick-off scheduled for October 26, according to BFN Executive Director Alison Upton Lopez. The organization also offers other volunteer opportunities, including after school tutoring and field trip chaperoning. For more information email volunteers@buildingfuturesnow.org or call Alison at 650-380-9038.

Photo by Chris Gulker

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