It seems like every other Evanston conversation begins with a complaint and ends with a question.
The complaint is about the state of the world, from dysfunction in Washington and Springfield to rampant gun violence, crumbling infrastructure, racial and gender inequity, and much more.
The question is, what can be done?
Most of us feel too insignificant and ineffective to make a difference. So instead we mutter some heartfelt but useless pieties and try to push it all out of our minds.
But there is something we can do. Just like all politics are local, so are the solutions.
And the best, easiest, and most convenient solution is to mentor a young person. Best because it can shape and strengthen a life; easiest because it is right here in Evanston; convenient because both Ys – the YWCA of Evanston/North Shore and McGaw YMCA – offer mentoring programs.
The YWCA’s Advancement Project helps women improve their money management skills. The program, which began this past summer, currently has 12 coaches working one-on-one with participants to develop a personalized financial plan. Coaches go through a six-hour training program. People interested in joining, either as a coach or participant, should call Shannon Callahan at the YWCA.
The McGaw YMCA’s program, Project SOAR, has 71 mentor/mentee pairs. The program was started in 1990 and has matched more than 1,000 kids since then. Today most mentors are Northwestern students, but there are also openings for community members. Mentors go through a seven-hour training program. Elise Roug at the McGaw Y can provide more information.
Through Project SOAR, I mentored a young Evanston man for 10 years — from the time he was 11 until he turned 21. On our Saturday outings we would go to ballgames, movies, museums, even (twice) horseback riding. I can’t count the number of meals we shared. He came to our family Seders and learned to drive on our excursions to Fort Sheridan. Sometimes we would do schoolwork together, and when he was considering going into the military, we studied the Army ASVAB test.
Now he is married with children, lives in a distant suburb, holds a good job and, whenever he is planning to come to Evanston, will call to get together for lunch. It is remarkably rewarding to see how well things are going for him. We catch up, laugh about marriage and kids, and reminisce about all our splendid get-togethers.
He is always quick to thank me for the time we spent and the things we did together. And I am quick to say I got more out of the relationship than he did. We became a wonderful team, thanks to Project SOAR.
You can help someone too. As the Talmud says, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. … You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
No more need to feel frustrated and angry about the state of the world. Change it – become a mentor.