By: Russell White, AmeriCorps VISTA Member with the Iowa Mentoring Partnership
For nearly 20 years the YSS Mentoring Program has successfully matched children and mentors, creating life-changing – and often life-long – relationships. Most youth in the YSS Mentoring Program report that their mentor has helped them become more inclined to be respectful, helpful, and understanding. The staff at YSS work diligently day-in and day-out to ensure that all their mentor-mentee matches are both successful and highly meaningful for every child and adult. The team at YSS Ballard for the past 20 years have had the pleasure and honor to have initially matched and supported a mentor who has stuck with the mentoring program since 1999 – Evy Raes.
Evy Raes first started mentoring when her eldest son was in 6th grade and her first mentee was in 6th grade as well. Afterward, Evy was matched with a young girl who was in 2nd grade and around the age of Evy’s two younger children – her name was Tiffani Popisil. At the time, young Tiffani didn’t ask for a mentor, but it was something that Kim Weeks of YSS Ballard and her school set up for her. They figured that Tiffani could use an older female model in her life and was told that the mentoring relationships were something they were going to try out. When Tiffani was very young her uncle adopted her because Tiffani’s mother unfortunately suffered from a brain injury and was thus unable to take care of her. So, Tiffani’s uncle raised her as a single father all her life. Tiffani’s school was aware of that and knew that Tiffani’s uncle could use the help.
“Having Evy helped me and my family out so much – she went above and beyond what was expected of her.” Tiffani would spend time at Evy’s house and play with her kids, go to church with her family, and just spend time with the whole family. Evy treated Tiffani much like she was one of her own kids. She didn’t have much in terms of positive female voices and roles in her life, and Evy believes that having that in her life helped her deal with the day-to-day. “Tiffani became one of the family.”
The two of them would do so many things with one another. Tiffani was included in the many thins Evy’s family would do. Evy tried to teach Tiffani how to sew – but it didn’t quite stick – then Evy also coached Tiffani in soccer – which didn’t stick much either. At the end of the day, it was clear that Tiffani enjoyed the time they spent together. If Tiffani had to single out any of her favorite memories with Evy, it would have to be staying at their house on Wednesdays and staying the night after school. “Just being a part of the family was important to me. It was more important to me than going out and spending money. Eating dinner with her family and eating breakfast with her family sticks out to me the most.”
Evy changed her life. Tiffani’s uncle needs someone to help and Tiffani needed to be in that kind of environment. “Those little things are the most important for me; family time and the little things, those are what were the most important to me.” According to Tiffani, they always had to say one thing about their day around the dinner table, and she absolutely loved that. During that time, they spent together, Evy taught her the family is not about blood. Evy didn’t have to taker her in or treat her like she was part of the family. She could have just kept it a more traditional mentor-mentee relationship. But Evy taught her the family isn’t necessarily blood; it’s about how much you are cared for and treated which matters the most. She felt completely accepted into the family as one of their own, which was a big thing for Tiffani since she did not have many blood relatives.
Though Evy taught Tiffani more than just the meaning of family. In Tiffani’s opinion, Evy is a “lady of all skills. She does it all.” Tiffani would observe her cook breakfast and take care of her family. What stuck out most to Tiffani was getting the opportunity to observe someone take care of a family and know that what she was observing was what she was going to do when she herself grew up. She watched her interactions with her family. “I know how to treat people and how to be a decent human being; how to be accepting of people. She has taught me millions of things.”
It is no wonder why the two of them admire one another so highly. For Evy, she admires Tiffani’s perseverance.“She had a very upbeat personality for the most part, and she was a straight-forward and confident young girl.” As for Tiffani, she admires much about Evy; so much that it’s difficult to just choose a couple of things. For starters, she always admired how strong Evy was because her husbands were out of the country a lot of the time and she had many kids she was raising at the time. Despite all of what she had on her plate she still made time for her kids and Tiffani. “There’s no such thing as too much for Evy and I admire that about her. I admire how much a strong-willed individual she is. I could sit here for a whole day and tell you things I admire about her.”
A couple of years ago, Evy helped Tiffani with her wedding dress which just made everything about that day even more special. Though 20 years have passed, and Tiffani is now a grown adult, she is no less part of the family than she was all those years ago. Evy and Tiffani keep in touch with another, as anyone would keep in touch with a relative. In addition to keeping up with Tiffani after all these years, she continues to mentor children today. Today, she mentors a young boy named Jared. They’ve been matched for two years, now going on three. Before Jared, she mentored his old sister Kara. Whenever she would mentor Kara usually her two younger siblings – Jared and Jasmine – would come along. Jared is a cheerful little boy who has an incredible skill of listening and recalling memories that not even Evy remembers. Even when Evy’s husband was diagnosed with breast cancer and was therefore not as present as she would have liked to be with Jared, she gave him note cards with her address so that the two of them can write each other back and forth. She always finds a way to stay dedicated to her mentees.
Even then, Evy claims that the reasons she started mentoring 20 years ago were for a “selfish reason.” Evy was in the National Guard and wanted her name to be put in for a national award. However, to do that she needed her résumé to reflect different projects and acts of volunteerism in her community. Since she had children at home, she didn’t have much time to volunteer; so, she thought she could do something during the day. That’s how she found out and got connected to YSS mentoring at the school. Though if you ask Tiffani, she disagrees with Evy’s assessment of herself. “Evy is incredibly humble, though sometimes to a fault. She is the most selfless and hardworking person I know.” In Tiffani’s eyes, if Evy went into mentoring for truly selfish reasons, then she wouldn’t have kept with it for 20+ years of her life and be so dedicated to her mentees.
If you’re looking for a good mentor, Tiffani believes they should have Evy’s ability to listen intently. “Someone who takes the time to ask you how you are doing. Not just someone who’s there to do a job. She could have treated me like I was just a job to her – but she never did. She treated me like a human, which is important to kids growing up.” It was incredibly important to her that she asked her how she was doing and giving Tiffani complete eye-contact. Evy made sure that the things important to Tiffani were also important to her. “We are very impressionable, and she always took the time to put me first. If you do not have a mentor putting your first, that’s not helping them and that’s not helping the mentee.” To no surprise, Evy also shares the same opinion as Tiffani. For Evy, it is important that a mentor be able to just listen and can carry on a conversation about everyday things because often that is all it is. Especially someone with empathy. “I think too often we can’t help other people because we can’t imagine ourselves in their position, especially when it is an 8-year old child. I think that is all it takes.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Evy Raes is one of the four recipients of the Excellence in Mentoring Award come April 16th. As an incredible mentor, she offers a piece of advice that rings true for anyone considering being a mentor. “I would tell them to just do it. If you want to know if you have the time to mentor, look at the Apple App which tells you how much time you spend looking at your phone. If you can spend some of that time to spend with a child, you should do it. Mentor where you work if that’s what it takes. Talk to your supervisor about creating a mentoring program; make it a community project. Go out there and do it! One hour at a time, that’s all you need to give.”
Will you take up Evy’s invitation to change the life of a child? What will you decide to prioritize: the time you spend on your electronic devices? Or, the time you could spend the build the confidence of a child and inevitably change their life for the better? Become a mentor today and help to be a role model and guiding light in a child’s life!