The Mentor


The Mentor

     "What does the term mentoring mean?" Asked the teacher. She was addressing 10 blind students--five high school students who were paired with five elementary students.

      "Mentoring is what happens when you have a more experienced person teaching a person who has less experience." Spoke up Bree, a precocious, totally blind 10-year-old, soft red curls bouncing as she delivered her answer.

     "Hee-hee, it can be fun, too!" Volunteered Chelsea, Bree's partner, a tall dark-haired, partially sighted-15-year-old, who was at an awkward stage in life (giggles and absent-mindedness).

     "Very good you two. Now class, let us re-visit our goals in terms of mentoring. First there is the obvious in how you are paired, one high school and one elementary student. Then in regard to our second major mentoring experience for this program, each of you pairs will be assigned to mentor an elderly person who is new to blindness."

     The next day, Chelsea and Bree arrived at the home of their mentee. Chelsea rang the doorbell. The inner-door was opened by an elderly woman. "Yes?" She said through the closed screen door.

     "Hi." Answered Chelsea.

     "Hi, Mrs. Johnson. I'm Bree and this is Chelsea. We are your mentors." Spoke up Bree.

     "Oh yes girls, excuse me. A person with poor vision can't be too cautious." Said the woman, unlocking and opening the door.

     "If I had been in front, you probably could have seen my white cane and knew it was us." Said Bree, trying to be tactfully helpful.

     "Possibly, young lady. Hold still and let me have a look at the two of you." Said Mrs. Johnson, stepping close, turning her head to the side using her peripheral vision. "Pretty. Now how about we go into the kitchen, have tea and get to know one another."

     Seated at the table Mrs. Johnson said, "I'm sorry I'm going to have to ask one of you to pour. With my vision I'm missing as often as I make it."

     "Oh please, let me." Said Chelsea, jumping up.

     "Excuse me, Chelsea! We are here to teach and here's our first opportunity. Mrs. Johnson, put your hands on top of mine and I'll show you how I would do it." Hands positioned, Bree continued. "Okay, here's the pot; good it's not too heavy. There's my cup. See how I bring the spout over, feel it right above the cup? Then when you tilt the pot, feel it touch the rim and my finger too?"

     "Yes and your finger is poking down into the cup."

     "Yes, I'm a little nervous and don't want to overfill it." Answered Bree, with a small self-conscious grin.

     The three of them talked and talked and had a great visit.

     "Okay mentor teams, time to report. You've had your first visit." Said the teacher.

     Bree and Chelsea were the third to report. "We had an awesome visit." Said Chelsea. "We go back next week."

     "Mrs. Johnson is 72." Reported Bree. "She has macular degeneration, that's where you lose your central vision and she told us all about it." Bree went on to tell of those things she and her partner taught their mentee. "My most favorite part was when Mrs. Johnson talked to me about ageing as a woman."

     "What?" Chelsea interjected in a puzzled tone.

     "That was when you took your marathon bathroom break…Anyway, she discussed how you must change your attitude and do things differently as you get older. And, I'm embarrassed to divulge this, but I never knew what age wrinkles were like. I mean, my grandparents all died when I was young and so I never got to know them. But now I know about wrinkles, Mrs. Johnson showed me."

     "Ee-U!" Said Chelsea, obviously grossed-out.

     Turning to her partner, hand on hip Bree said, "I beg your pardon. In all due respect to the dignity of Mrs. Johnson, she showed me the wrinkles on her hands and then the loose and sagging skin of her forearm. So to sum up, I mean, we were there to teach Mrs. Johnson about blindness, but she taught us about ageing, too. I learned that mentoring can happen both ways."


e-mail responses to

**1. Since I started the mentoring program I think that my mentor and I teach each other . Not just he teaches me. We can learn so much from each other without
knowing it.

Benjamin J. Micek Omaha Nebraska

**2. That's one of the better stories I've seen from you. It's good enough to be a chicken soup story or something like that.

Nancy Lynn

**3. I was born blind. The closest I got to a "blind role model," growing up was my grandfather, who had decided he couldn't cope with the world and had locked
himself into a nursing home voluntarily some time before I was born in 1969; to my knowledge, he is still there, where he has been for the past forty some
years. You might say that, for me, this was an anti-role model; certainly I had no one to teach me "this is how blind people do X or Y or Z." I had teachers
for Braille, and I suppose someone must have taught me how to use a cane at some point, though I have had none of the extensive mobility orientation that it seems most blind people have had. In short, I grew up just *doing stuff*, and to this day, when asked "How do you do stuff," I'm stopped short in my
tracks, dumbfounded because I can't figure out how to ask the question. I'd make a horrible mentor, simply because I lack the perspective to separate
"blind person doing stuff," from "person doing stuff." If someone asks me, "How do you pour a cup of tea," he or she is likely to read the equivalent
of a "blue screen," in my expression. I think the mentoring idea is a great one, provided the mentors have this crucial perspective. That, and a willing
person to be mentored, who couldn't go postal if someone three times younger than she were to try and tell her how to do something. Come to think of it,
I'd make a horrible mentee, too.

Mark BurningHawk

**4. I think it is important for younger people to understand about aging. The
only way to avoid it is to die young, which isn't something to which most
people aspire. Since it's inevitable, we should try to understand what
people go through as they age. They deserve our respect. Although, I have
always felt that respect is something that people earn and not something
that is automatically given to everyone no matter how they treat others,
respecting people's age is like having respect for the office of the
President of the USA. You might not like the person in the office, but you
should respect the office and the fact that they achieved it.

I can remember when I was little hearing adults talking about people who
had a fall and hurt themselves. I never understood why it was a big
deal. I fell all the time, and I never needed more than a Band-Aid. I was
much older before I understood how serious a fall could be at an advanced
age. I might have understood this as well as many other things about
getting older if I'd had the courage to ask more often and the adults had
not brushed it off when I did.

If we're afraid to explain to each other or to inquire, hence to
communicate, we've got a problem right off. You can't expect the younger
people to understand if they never are told. The mentoring program sounds
like a great idea to me. There's no teacher like experience.

Marilyn Dorn Pahrump, Nevada

**5. Lots of good thoughts here. Maybe it takes a large helping of both "Natural
Talent" and "Training and Experience" to make the best Mentor or Instructor.
I'm sure there is a myriad of things that make a Mentor successful
(Personality, trust, organization of thoughts and actions, dedication, sense
of purpose....and the list goes on). I'm not being condescending or making
light of this, but rather one question comes to mind when a group or agency
sends out a mentor or sets up a mentoring program. Or, am I being too
straightlaced or conservative?

How would the issue of liability or standardization be handled if an
organization or agency did set up such mentoring program? Many programs
require certification and training and induction. Funds could not be
allocated for someone who is not trained or certified. How would such a
mentoring program be funded. Even with volunteers, there would be expenses.

Is a mentor covered by something like the "Good Samaritan" clause?

Max Hearn ACB-L Listserv

**6. I like this thought made me think and then made me proud.

When I first started to read the provoker, I assumed, incorrectly, that
Chelsea, since she was older, would be the mentor for Bree. Then, when they
went to Mrs. Johnson's home, it was obvious that Bree, despite her younger
age, had received more training in alternative techniques of blindness, she
was more self-confident than Chelsea, and wasn't afraid to take the lead.
The fact that she was the younger of the two girls didn't hinder her from
taking on the roll of teacher.

So, my expectations were proven wrong, and I'm glad of that. Next, Bree
took charge and helped to teach Mrs. Johnson how to pour hot water. She
felt comfortable talking with the older lady and she learned about growing
older, from her, as well. I found my self hoping that Chelsea was observing
all of this and learning from Bree, also.

It's a great thing to find a young blind person who has been instilled, from
her earliest childhood, with the proper attitude toward blindness and some
of the skills she needs to enjoy her young life and interact with all kinds
of people. Not much is said about Chelsea, other than that she has some
vision. So, we don't really know whether she began to lose her sight
recently and hasn't had enough time to learn what Bree knows, or has she not
been given the opportunities that Bree has received, by her parents or other
teachers? But, it made me happy that this trio included ten year old Bree.

Cindy Handel Willow Street, PA

**7. I'm all in favor of the mentoring concept. I was a little confused at first and had to reread that Chelsey is also blind. The question is who is actually
mentoring who. Being a former school teacher, it is not uncommon to learn from those you are teaching, and I believe that's what growing relationships
are all about. In this case, each one had something to learn from the other.

Judy Jones

**8. You know, If I had a chance to help one person out, that would be the thrill of my
life. Now I help my husband out, and it all comes back in return.
I haven't found that person in Montana yet. Either the rehab here feels they can do it all, but to have the one to one talk all of the time is grate. We too need to feel useful. So if anyone know in Billings where I can be helpful please share. I had a teacher who showed me many things. Our first traveling down town, taking a buss. Of course this was in Denver Colorado.
How to sniff for the different stores. How to ask directions.
I loved it. And yes this little girl asked many questions. My teacher also was blind. How she learned about the bushes in her yard so she could find her home
again. I yes I asked, "what would happen if the bushes were gone?"
Her reply was, that she would have to figure out a new way to find her
house. I had never thought of that before.
I learned so much from her.
Thanks for reading.

dmgina NFBtalk mailing list

**9. We could debate from now until Dooms Day whether effective rehabilitation
teaching is a learned skill, or a natural talent.
But after 32 years working in the field, I am certain of one thing. All
things being equal, a blind rehab teacher will be more effective than their
sighted counterpart.
In no way is this a put down of sighted rehab teachers. It's my good
fortune to be married to as talented and effective sighted rehab teacher as
ever was created. She can elicit positive results from the most dower,
angry, depressed, negative people.
But the bottom line is always, "But you can see". In the end, she teaches
them. They go forward, able to function independently. And this is our
goal in the Independent Living Program. But they seldom internalize the
belief that they are equal to their sighted neighbors. They cling to
whatever remaining sight they have, like a drowning man clings to a life
preserver. Many of them believe that it takes a sighted teacher to train
them, because blind people can't do those things.
Since Cathy and I work as a team, I will take on the areas where the newly
blinded person would expect sighted guidance. Cooking. Cleaning. Yard
work. Cane travel. All the little things like chopping and dicing, pouring
and measuring, frying and baking. Actually, in many of these areas Cathy is
far more skilled than I am. But standing along side a blind man as they
learn to chop celery or dice onions has a different effect.
It is that fine line between teaching and mentoring. Cathy can no more
mentor a blind person than I could mentor an abused woman.
Yet, in the State of Washington, the Department of Services for the Blind,
over the years, has down played the importance of the Mentor/rehab teacher.
In an effort to do more for less, rehab teachers have been combined with O&M
specialists, effectively eliminating blind teachers. The constant pressure
on government to cut costs in social service programs, amounts to
discrimination. It denies blind people the most critical element in their
rehabilitation. The mentor.
As usual I could go on ad infinitum. But my soap box is getting soggy in
this Great Olympic Peninsula rain, so I'm heading for the warm fire.

Carl Jarvis ACB-L mailing list

**10. Mentoring between individuals should be meaningful regardless' of disability, sighted and visually impaired. If we would only take the time to share
our own experiences with each other. I learned that a long time ago. In fact there are times that I can recall, that I learned something from a youngster
and from an artistic individual. Actually, there are several times that I recall learning from those I took time to listen to. This is true even with
top executives of large corporations. Even when one is a expert, a professional, we still can learn new ideas, approaches, and etc.. The secret is to
shove off that arrogant attitude and listen. This is why I can't stand arrogance, those who think their --- doesn't stink. They are the idiots of the


Jack E. Mindrup Omaha, Nebraska

**11. This was an interesting Thought Provoker, because it touches on an issue that doesn't even need the blindness angle: that is, the need of the young and
the old for each other.
My mother used to work in a nursing home. Although she served the elderly for a living, she was scared to death of being in their position. She died
when she was 56, so she was spared the need for round-the-clock care.
It seemed to me that the elderly tend to get very sick simply because they have nothing to do! They just sleep, eat, watch TV, and play bingo. But they don't get
to do much else.
Your story is a good idea, and it has been suggested before. Last year, I had a mailing list that consisted mostly of blind people, and two sighted.
I suggested that older blind folks could mentor the younger, regarding education, job training, and various aspects of day to day living.
Unfortunately, this idea does not seem to be popular among the blind. Because around that same time, I had attended the NFB state convention in New Hampshire.
An older lady (about 68) was there, and asked me why I, a sighted person, was interested. I told her that I was concerned about the quality of education
(or lack thereof) for the disabled, with a deep concern for Braille literacy.
The old lady seemed to dismiss the idea as irrelevant, saying, "I'm concerned about macular degeneration among the elderly." Her tone of voice was very
discouraging, perhaps even a bit cold-shouldered. To make matters worse, the subject of mentoring the younger blind was hardly even hinted at.
What a waste! Logically, the elderly can be very helpful in these matters. Try working your story in reverse: What if a child was facing blindness? An
older blind person could share her experiences, and teach the child the ropes! But there seems to be little or no interaction between the young and the
old. Sure, the elders send blind kids to "camp." Big deal! What about practical matters of daily living? Nor is this limited to the blind. It covers all aspects of society. I have a serious bone to pick with the older generation, because there is a definite
lack of concern for the young on their part. Just this week, I wrote an editorial in the local paper on this issue.
I say, get the elderly OUT of nursing homes and high-rises, and get them INTO a classroom! Why let decades of knowledge and experience go to waste? The aged women likewise may teach the young women.

David Lafleche

**12. Of course, like all the TPs you write, this one reminds me of my first college mentor who showed me how to write an A level paper, as well as explaining
the finer points of higher learning and how the instructor's mind works. Her concern for my success was what kept me going when I felt over whelmed by the
burden of college, parenting, and blindness. I hope that I can one day return the favor.

Ann Chiappetta, M.S.

**13. There really isn't much to say on this thought provoker other than the fact that Chelsea and bree taught Mrs. Johnson about blindness and independence
and Mrs. Johnson taught Bree about aging. When you mentor someone, each can learn from each other about their experiences, and therefore, new friendships
can be established. Maintaining that relationship with Mrs. Johnson would be good even beyond the mentoring period because exchanges of the days before, when Mrs. Johnson was Chelsea and Bree's ages, and the present can take place. Such exchange would be fascinating to all involved.

Linda Minnesota

**14. I'm at a bit of a loss as to what to say about this one. I don't think, as a blind person, I ever really mentored for a newly blind person. I think this
could be a great experience for people, both the mentors and the people they are helping, especially, as Bree points out, since the mentors themselves
can learn from the older, newly blind person, about things such as attitude change, physical issues relating to aging, etc.

I must also make some comments about the difference in style between Chelsea and Bree. Chelsea, the older, partially sighted girl, is ready to do things
for Mrs. Johnson, having already, it seems, picked up societal values about how this should be done, whereas Bree, the inquisitive 10-year-old blind girl,
is still uninhibited and seems to have her own ideas about blindness, healthy ideas, it seems, and she wants to show Mrs. Johnson how things can be done,
not just do things for her. The obvious example is that Bree shows Mrs. Johnson how to pour her tea, whereas Chelsea is ready to just do it for her when
asked to do so. Bree seems less inhibited. Chelsea has already slipped into this adolescent, totally image conscious, easily grossed out attitude, for
example, her response when Bree talks about Mrs. Johnson showing her her wrinkles. In fact, I question whether Chelsea is right for this mentoring program,
unless she can discuss and hopefully work to get over some of her attitudes. Having said this, I would also say that her long bathroom break Bree confronted
her about was probably no accident, it was a signal of some kind that she would rather be somewhere else. If she can survive her attitude, Chelsea might
actually learn a few things from Bree, the younger mentor. But I do think this kind of success is uncertain at best.

**15. Excellent - you mentored me too!

Carolyn Gold

**16. Came on this one late, but I like it. Nice story, good examples.

Ann Parsons

**17. I found this interesting, but why did the girls not mention to the lady about a liquid level indicator I can't live without mine, and I could envisage her burning her fingers on the tea apart from that mentoring for me has not always worked it may have done for the older lady .
all for now.

Jane Sellers

**18. Mentoring is one of the best ways to help a new person with blindness in their lives. I think when a person is in the early stages of adjusting to their blindness, that it helps them by interactingh with some one who has ben there.

Marvin Polson

**19. I think the key to being a good mentor is to listen and to be patient. People aren't always ready to learn especially if they are still trapped in denial
or they have led a life of dependence and resent being challenged to learn new techniques. Sometimes I tease, sometimes I gently suggest and other times
I back off and wait for someone to ask. When I was a business woman, raising three children, I once attended a meeting where an eight and ten year old
girls from opposite ends of the county were brought by their parents. My guide dog drew the parents over to where I was sitting and while the parents
held a separate conversation, the girls asked me questions that brought it home to me the need for mentoring of mainstreamed kids. The eight year old
asked what she could be when she grew up. Could she get married? Could she have kids? Could she get a job? The ten year old asked what she could do
now to be like me when she grew up. I approached the blind school in my state to ask about the possibility of holding a transition week during their summer
program. I brought together the most talented and capable blind people I knew to interact with kids leaving high school and those entering junior high.
The program was successful and the school continued the program. I chose the people I invited carefully for their unique jobs and lifestyles. I wanted
people who could be honest and share comfortably the methods they used to cope. I don't any one person has all the answers, but a free exchange of ideas
and a chance to talk is a good starting point. I have kept in touch with one child in the program who was eleven at the time and is now approaching thirty I think. It was a joy to watch her conquer her dreams and continue the process of becoming a competent happy blind adult. I also think it is important
not to lecture or act as if you know it all. There simply isn't a single way to deal with blindness and offering options is what it is all about.

DeAnna Quietwater Missouri

**20. All too often the blind, especially those who
go blind later in life do not feel they can be taught by another blind
person. There is a lady living in this area who earlier said she didn't
need to come to our support meetings because she was not blind yet. (Not
an isolate case either.) But she did go blind and today is lost at doing
anything but her own care. She calls the computer repairman to help her
with jaws because she can not be taught by a blind person. Still this
computer repairman, whom I use for all my computer needs, will call me and
suggest I talk to this lady. But I am informed by her that a blind person
can not teach her. There is an organization one hour away who help with
mobility training, making the house more blind friendly who also teach the
computer in their office. But as soon as this lady realized the teacher was
blind she shut the door to his help.

Still we can keep chipping away and one by one the blind will be ready to

Ernie Jones Walla Walla Washington

**21. This is a tough one for me. Over the years, I have tried to assist newly blind people-probably four or five that I have current recollection of-and in
most cases, I have found a resistance from the newly blind. One young person has spent half of her inheritance with an accupuncturer in Canada and she
firmly believes that he has stopped the progression of her retinitis Pigmentosa. She continues to go to him at exorbitant cost in hopes that he will eventually
reverse the disease. I have tried to convey that the condition most often stabilizes itself and that most probably the non-progression of her condition
has no bearing to acupuncture treatment and she should consult her ophthalmologist, but she refuses to talk about it. Another elderly person feels that
acceptance of state or VA services places him in a welfare state and would be embarrassing to him, so he struggles along on his own desperately needing
rehab! I find that frustrating and I have begun to think that I should not meddle in other people's problems, so I have sort of withdrawn from offering
mentoring unless asked.

Jim Theall Longmont, Colorado

**22. Having had very little experience with mentoring, and having had no usable vision, the expression of someone's vision loss appears as whining because I have no feeling of its magnitude. There are huge areas that I simply cannot address, and it is wrong to be phony.

Yet, folks get through such an experience some way either with or without mentoring. Resilience and ingenuity are the keys.

For instance, I haven't the slightest notion of how I'd get by if I lost my hearing. I would not be able to gage any success unless I learned and used the skills.

We have to be able to match perspectives before any real mentoring or sharing can occur--otherwise, it's just talk.

Mark Blier, Sierra Vista, Arizona

**23. I've read the first 18 responses to THE MENTOR. The responses are as
interesting as the provoker.

We're all different and, whether we believe we can mentor or not, I believe
there is someone out there who needs the knowledge we can provide.

I don't believe mentoring is a formal training situation. Our society has
become much to concerned about liability and financial cost of programs.
Mentoring can be done simply by getting to know someone and spending time
with them.

My neighbor lost his sight several years ago. I supposed, my husband and I
had been mentoring him for years before that, without even realizing it.
When Bill lost his sight, it was not as difficult a transition as it might
have been. He already knew that blind people can do what we want and need
to do. He has asked how to perform some tasks. But, he also allowed me to
teach him to travel with his cane. He signed up and completed a Braille
course through Hadley, and he has spent time at the V.A. rehab center in
Connecticut to learn basic daily living skills and then a second term to
learn computer.

So, to my way of thinking, mentoring isn't anything complicated; it's simply
teaching through example.

Cindy Handel Willow Street, PA

**24. I recently became a participant in a state-wide mentoring program, and I am benefiting from it immensely.

However, what I think people need to realize, is that mentors don’t have to be people assigned to you by someone else. I have more mentors than I can count,
both blind and sighted. I know I have learned from them, and I hope they have learned something from me as well.

Another thing I think people should realize is that a mentor doesn’t have to be older than you. You learn different things at different points in your life,
and a big part of learning is being open to learning from people from all walks of life. It bothers me when people write off my advice simply because I
am younger than they are, and the people I respect most are the people who treat me as an equal. I think that is the basis of a really sound mentoring

Karen Anderson Omaha, Ne

**25. This is indeed a very interesting subject. As I grew up in a developing
country without a mentor and with no role model it was indeed very
difficult. Now that I have traveled extensively and was involved in the
formation of an advocacy organization. Have a job and family. I certainly
value a mentor program it is a learning opportunity for both the parties.

When I started my education in mid 70's we shared a Brailler between 6
students. There were even very limited Braille or large print books. 10
years later blind children were intergraded into normal schools with very
limited support.

Currently, there are few blind teachers, Bank officers, Switch-board
operators and factory workers. for many of us we don't have our choice of
employment due to limited resources, lack of mentoring programs and lack of
role models. Through technology and access to Internet I realize that blind
people can become lawyers, psychologists and even managers and leaders of
organizations and enterprises. This knowledge is perhaps, not available to
children at schools so, by linking with a mentor a child can certainly learn
a lot and also, pass on their skills to older generation.

Rakesh chand Fiji