A year ago, two individuals sat across from each other for the first time, unsure what the following 365 days might hold. One was Amanda “Mandi” Bartlett, who works at the Ravenel Oncology Center in Martinsville. The other was Serenity Bradshaw, a participant in the Martinsville YMCA’s Reach and Rise mentorship program.
As Bartlett spoke with Bradshaw, her father, Kelvin Bradshaw, and Reach and Rise Director Terri Hairston, she developed a first impression of the young lady she would soon come to call a friend.
“ She was really sweet and really shy,” Bartlett said. “She had a difficult time opening up at first and I did too.”
After their initial meeting, the two set off on a new adventure each week.
Bartlett planned each outing based on the same structure. First, the two had dinner together. Then, they both participated in a fun activity.
“ Mandi planned and she did an exceptional job doing that,” Hairston said. “She intentionally devised a plan and provided a structure that was consistent. Young people need structure.”
Some of their favorite activities to do together included making arts and crafts, writing, going to the movies, skating and honing their arcade skills at Uptown Pinball.
While mentors may spend any amount of money on their outings, it doesn’t take a lot to enhance a child’s life.
“ There are lots of things you can do around here,” Hairston said.
The director equips each mentor with a list of the top 40 free or low-cost kid-friendly activities in Martinsville and Henry County, provided by VisitMartinsville, the local tourism department.
“ They do a list and they do all of this research,” Hairston said. “People aren’t aware of these little nuggets. I was even surprised.”
Participating in activities together helps the mentor and child's connection grow in a fun and healthy way. Doing things that the child and adult both enjoy often opens communication lines.
“ The biggest [accomplishment] was working on self-confidence,” Bartlett said. “She made a lot of progress.”
The two also explored the importance of honesty, especially in communications and relationships.
As the year progressed, Bartlett watched Serenity open up and grow.
“ It gave me a sense of pride, watching how she developed over the year,” Bartlett said. “From week to week, it seemed so small.”
Even though the gains seemed minute at times, the friendship the two formed changed both of their lives in a big way.
As the year ended and the group met for one last time, Hairston also noted a positive outcome.
“ It’s rewarding, especially when you see a match like that one,” Hairston said. “I could see two lives had changed. I could see tears in Serenity’s eyes, but she looked up and said, ‘We make an awesome team.’”
While Serenity and Bartlett’s pairing couldn’t have been more perfect, for some people, a storybook match could be thwarted by fears that never become realities.
Before she became a mentor, anticipatory questions ravaged Bartlett’s mind. Would she be cool enough? Was she fun enough? Was she good enough? Did she really have the time?
The fears quickly vanished as Bartlett and Serenity’s friendship grew.
“ he rewards you get out of it far outweigh the concerns,” Bartlett said. “I don’t regret a minute. It’s worth it.”
Bartlett plans to mentor through Reach and Rise again in the future, but won’t jump right back into the program this year. She often manages her time helping both local youth and children overseas. In August, she will spearhead a charity hike up Mount Kilimanjaro for her nonprofit organization, Give Hope, Inc., and continue to assist a Tanzanian community that she’s helped since 2012.
“ With all the work I’ve done overseas, it’s important to me to invest in kids in my own community, too,” Bartlett said. “Reach and Rise is a great opportunity to do that.”
For those who wish to positively impact the youth in Martinsville and Henry County, there are mentoring opportunities available through the Reach and Rise program.
“ You can come together. You can invest in somebody. You can tell somebody they’re worth it,” Bartlett said.
Potential mentors must first complete an application, which can be found online at www.martinsvilleymca.com or at the YMCA located at 3 Starling Ave in Martinsville. Then, mentors go through 15 hours of training. All potential mentors also have a background screening and a face-to-face interview with Brad Kinkema, YMCA executive director, and Hairston.
“ I’m big on safety. This is a positive program. We take every measure to make sure our mentors and our mentees are safe,” Hairston said.
Throughout the year, Hairston meets with mentors, the children and parents once a month to ensure a positive, productive match.
“ I ’m looking for someone who’s passionate and wants to make a difference in a child’s life,” Hairston said.
Over the six years Hairston’s directed the program, mentors have come from all over. Several live in the Martinsville area, but others travel from North Carolina. County and state lines don’t determine a positive role model, but a passion for helping children and shaping tomorrow’s leaders does.
“ I have seen, just recently, people doing a lot of things in our community to help people,” Hairston said. “If we are going to be a strong community, we need to invest in our youth. These are our future law enforcement officers, our future mayors. These are our future community leaders.”
For those interested in becoming a Reach and Rise mentor, contact Hairston through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the YMCA at (276) 632-1772.