An Unexpected Pen Pal
By Sol W. Bernstein, Director and Associate General Counsel, Citibank August 18, 2015 12:15 PM
iMentor is enabling thousands of professionals to positively impact high school students. My experience with iMentor started when I received a Citi email with a call for volunteers; I knew it was something I needed to do. I always wanted to make a long-term mentoring commitment but was conscious of making sure I could uphold my end of the bargain. Being an iMentor is conducive to someone like me who has a full schedule and can’t necessarily commit to meeting in person on a weekly basis. As iMentors we are tasked with writing one thoughtful email each week to our mentees and attending a two-hour session once a month in the evening with our mentee at their high school. What I’ve found thus far is that through these continued engagements, you are truly helping to mold a young person’s life and better enabling them to achieve success.
My mentee is a 9th grade boy named Luis. He lives in the Bronx in New York City and attends a high school in Manhattan. Our first meeting was at his high school cafeteria and it played out this way: we ate pizza together and then talked about our respective lives, families, and goals for the program. Luis was fairly shy and quiet, yet serious about his studies and his interest in technology. Though I am a banking lawyer with little to no knowledge of technology, I knew that I could help him stay focused and consider new possibilities as he goes through high school and focuses on the college application process.
All 9th graders in Luis’ school must attend a class taught by an iMentor counselor who delivers a weekly prompt for composing an email to their mentors. I receive the email like clockwork each Wednesday morning. The prompts ask for answers to several questions, but Luis would only respond with 2 or 3 sentences when we first started working together. My initial goal for Luis was to help him improve his writing in his emails. At the risk of sounding like I was lecturing, I stressed to him that to make a good impression in any scenario, with a job application or communicating in any business role, he must be able to write an email well. After I receive Luis’ email I respond that evening or within a few days and answer with a much longer email, responding both to his message answering the mentor prompt, and going beyond that in order to establish a rapport with Luis.
After being in this program for over 7 months, I can report that Luis now considers me both his friend and his mentor. Luis has expressed that he likes hearing from me. Instead of the prompts, I just use the emails to update him on my life and ask him about his. He reports to me how he is doing on his subjects and other things in his life. We’re just getting started. I look forward to mentoring him for the full four years of high school and seeing him succeed in college.
I have learned that we still have a lot to give young people—even a 55-year-old lawyer, like me. I had never been in a NYC high school before, and it opened my eyes to the will to succeed these kids have. I take pride in knowing that whatever time I give to assist Luis will serve him well as he finds his direction and makes his full effort to reach both his current and long term goals. I am grateful that this opportunity became available through the Citi Foundation’s Pathway to Progress initiative. I thank the Citi Foundation for introducing me to the iMentor program and for supporting it as they do.