This week, I had the pleasure of meeting with a very special mentor and student at Oak Springs Elementary. Jack Goodman is a retired civil engineer who joined the mentor program in October of 2007. He was matched with Frankie, a bright 5th grade student who was interested in design as well.
Before Frankie arrived, Mr. Goodman talked with me about why he decided to join the mentor program this year. Mr. Goodman is the primary caretaker for his wife, who has Alzheimer’s. He talked about a program they go to where volunteers have various activities for the patients to participate in. He was so appreciative of the time that they gave to his wife that he decided he should “pay it forward” by becoming a mentor.
While I was setting up the camera to record our conversation, Frankie started to tell Jack about the new video game he had bought. I had no idea what game he was talking about but if Jack shared my feelings, you couldn’t tell. He asked questions and listened intently as Frankie excitedly told him about his weekend.
Christin: Why did you decide to start mentoring?
Jack: I decided because my wife has Alzheimer’s and she’s been in it 7 years and a lot of people give care to us regarding the disease so I figured I needed to do something to give back to the community. So I decided, through First Baptist Church which has a lot of mentors here at Oak Springs, to do the same. And back in October, I joined the team! And luckily I got him!
Christin: What did you think when you found out you were going to get a mentor?
Frankie: Well I was waiting and waiting and waiting and I was like “Cool!” because my friends have mentors too. So I was waiting and waiting until finally he came. And that day just happened to be my birthday.
Jack: Yeah, we celebrated together.
Christin: Had you been waiting a long time to have a mentor?
Frankie: Yeah, maybe 2 or 3 weeks.
Jack: Ms. Feilke [the Mentor Contact at Oak Springs] paired us up because I was in the design profession and Frankie was interested in architecture. So she paired us up and it really worked well. He’s thinking about going to architecture school or maybe being a lawyer. I advised him to be a lawyer – it’s a lot more money than architecture!
Frankie: Maybe I can do both!
Christin: So what kind of stuff do you do together during your meetings?
Frankie: So first thing we do is we talk a little bit. We play chess or checkers or something like that.
Christin: He told me you beat him a lot in chess.
Frankie: (shyly) Yes.
Christin: What have you learned from having a mentor?
Frankie: He has pictures of animals and he taught me how to draw houses and stuff. And he taught me how you can tell how much it costs by the square feet of the house. And he told me what (architects) do.
Christin: So you’re ahead of the game!
Christin: Have you seen a change since you started mentoring?
Jack: Pretty much Frankie’s been about how he always was when I met him. He’s a good kid. He’s a good athlete, or at least he tells me he is. But he’s a good student. Not like the average kid though. He’s got a lot of good things, emotionally and mentally, that he’s dealing with. I keep up with the school work. I try to tell him “If you can do the best, you’re going to be the best.” And just advise him of that.
This year, Frankie applied to attend the Fulmore Middle School Magnet Program. According to the website, the Fulmore Magnet Program “features classes in Humanities, Law, and International Studies. The Magnet Program places emphasis on citizenship and civic responsibilities through specialized courses in law and government.” Each year, Fulmore Magnet receives applications from elementary schools across Austin as well as private schools in the Central Texas area. In 2008-2009, the program had 112 6th grade students.
Christin: Can you tell me a little bit about why you decided to apply to Fulmore Middle School Magnet Program?
Frankie: Well, my Dad wanted me to go to Covington.. because he thought there was a difference in how kids acted there. But my Mom heard that my aunt and my uncle went to Fulmore so she wanted me to go there. And there’s a humanities program there for humanities and law. So I decided to sign up for it.
Christin: So I heard when you applied to Fulmore Magnet that you wrote an essay. Did you talk about Mr. Goodman in your essay?
Frankie: I did because the topic was “Why are you choosing Fulmore Magnet Humanities and Law?” and I thought about it. So I said I would like to do it because I feel that it would provide me with more knowledge and that it would help me more with architecture stuff. So I said that my mentor was an architect and he told me you need to know lots of math.
Christin: So do you want Mr. Goodman to continue as your mentor at Fulmore?
Frankie: (before I finished my sentence) Yes.
Below is an excerpt from Frankie’s application essay for the Fulmore Magnet Program.
“If you look around my room at Grandma’s house, you would first think it’s a little messy. Then you would realize it has all the stuff I like so I know where it is. There’s my chessboard on the table that my mentor, Jack Goodman, gave me. It’s pure ivory and he had it since he was young. Now he’s retired and wanted me to have it. Jack was a famous architect and designed Bowie High School and some famous churches in Austin. He was also in the Army Canine Corps and his brother was in the Navy. Every week when he comes to visit me at school we play chess with the little plastic chessmen in the library while we talk. I told Jack about Fulmore Magnet, and he said that would be a great choice for me. He said he would come there to see me next year. After talking to Jack, I decided that Fulmore Magnet would be my best choice. It will help me get into higher classes in high school so I can get a scholarship for college. It also goes with what I want to do in a career. I want to be a lawyer and work in either government or environment.”
Christin: What would you say to anyone out there who may be unsure about whether they can be a mentor or may be thinking about being a mentor?
Jack: Well, in life, you never know what you can do and can’t do unless you try to do something. If you don’t do it, you’ve lost the opportunity. My advice to anybody who’s interested in mentoring is to try it and see if they agree with the program, which I do. The help that I got was from my son, who was a mentor for a student about 10 or 15 years ago, and I kind of learned from him. My advice is that you’re never going to know about something unless you try it. That’s what prompted me to do it.
At the end of our interview, Frankie showed Mr. Goodman’s volunteer badges that they have collected to keep track of their visits.
Frankie: I think there are too little. I think he’s come more.
Christin: Do you think, Frankie, that when you grow up you’d want to come back and mentor a student?
Jack: He’d be a good one.
Christin: Were you nervous when you started?
Jack: Sure! Everybody’s nervous when they get into a new situation. He was nervous too, weren’t you?
Jack: He didn’t know what kind of rascal he was going to get!
Christin: And Frankie, you said you had waited awhile to get a mentor, so what would you say on behalf of the other kids who want mentors?
Frankie: It’s a very good thing to have a mentor because he’s someone you can talk to. And it’s almost a counselor but you can get more into it with him. And you start to trust him. They’re fun to hang around with. And you know they care about you.
Jack: And I agree with what he said. Trust is the key word. You got to trust each other (and know) that we’re not in left field somewhere. And we’re good buddies.
I thanked Frankie and Mr. Goodman for their time. Frankie jumped up and started laying out their next activity for the day – Jenga. There were many pieces of my time with Frankie and Jack that I don’t think can be described in writing. I could tell that Frankie was very comfortable with Jack and that they both shared the confidence that Frankie is going to go on and do really amazing things with his life. Frankie was just as proud to have Jack as a mentor as Jack was to have Frankie as a student. I’m really looking forward to seeing their relationship grow in the coming years.