By Katie Callahan (Photo/Katie Callahan)
Mentoring is like two-person kayaking: Sometimes mentors paddle against the current; other times, they go with the flow.
In a few cases, that analogy takes on a very literal meaning.
For Space of His Own mentors Bradley Libbey, David Brown and Jordan Costen, kayaking gave them a chance to spend more time with the boys they have taken under their wings — fifth graders Steven Martinez, Dereck Reyes and Jeremiah Monroe — even though this year’s program is officially over. Though their work usually spans just a single school year, this group of mentors chose to stick with their young peers a little longer.
“The one thing we’ve learned through all this is the best way to get to know each other is to just have fun,” Libbey said as he paddled up the Potomac River with Martinez earlier this summer.
Space of His Own started in 2013 and is based on its predecessor, Space of Her Own, both spearheaded by Linda Odell. The version for at-risk boys pairs fifth graders with role models, who meet with them regularly for dinner, life skills lessons, volunteer opportunities, athletics or carpentry projects.
This group’s recent outing included awe-filled mollusk sightings, yelling upon the slightest tip of the kayak, paddle splashes, looking for big fish, throwing seaweed and a friendly competition to see who could reach a small island first.
At times, they needed encouragement.
“Should we go for it? Let’s go for it,” Libbey reassured Martinez as they pressed on a little further.
Other times, all it took was a little inspiration.
Reyes, an animal lover, stopped to photograph birds. Reyes previously won a photography contest for taking shots of shadows on a playground, so Brown engaged him in a game of finding shadows and shapes along the shoreline.
Brown decided to mentor after moving to Alexandria this past summer from D.C. While 60 percent of his conversations with Reyes are about dogs, Brown hopes to talk to him about school soon.
“We start off having fun and doing projects, but as he goes into middle school, I want to help him academically and talk about books and things like that,” Brown said.
Libbey started mentoring four years ago. He makes fun the objective.
Costen meets with Monroe about every two weeks and encourages anyone interested in the program to get involved.
“Think about the impact you can have on the youth, on one individual or even a group of individuals,” Costen said. “It can be hard in terms of timing, but look at the difference you’ll make in a child’s life.”
A first-time kayaker, Monroe dubbed this event his favorite, and called the program amazing.
“We get to do a whole bunch of activities with our mentors and create a special bond with our mentors,” he said.
Ashley Snyder, program coordinator, said mentors show kids opportunities they may not know exist.
“The program was originally started as a preventative program, but after seeing this first year, the real focus has shifted to, ‘What are these boys capable of?’” she said.
Snyder hopes to find another strong class of mentors this year. Space of His Own is seeking 12 adult volunteers.
Jointly sponsored by Alexandria Juvenile Court Services and the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, the program culminates each year with a renovation of the children’s bedrooms. The next orientation session will be held on August 12 at the Alexandria Seaport Foundation at 2 Duke St., beginning at 5:30 p.m. For more information on the program, go to www.spaceofhisown.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.