A Q&A with APIE Mentors

January is National Mentoring Month, and during this month (and throughout the year!) we celebrate all our amazing mentors. The 2020-2021 school year has been different than previous years with all our programming now operating on a virtual format. It’s been a learning and growing experience for us and our volunteers, but despite the challenges we’ve continued to support Austin ISD students together. We’re grateful for the more than 200 mentors who are mentoring students virtually this year. To learn more about what it’s like to be a mentor, check out our Q&A below with two of our long-term mentors: Leeanne Pacatte and Derrick Townsend. If you aren’t a mentor already, visit austinpartners.org to learn more and sign up today!

Leeanne Pacatte

Q: How has your experience serving as a mentor for APIE impacted your life?  

A: My mentee has taught me so much. She helps me to be more grateful and mindful of my blessings and privilege. She helps me to stay in touch with my younger and more fun self. She taught me the latest dances when I needed to come up with some ideas for a mother/son dance for my son’s wedding. My mentee gives me purpose and a sense of connection outside my usual world. I will forever be grateful.

Q: How do you feel the transition from in-person to virtual mentoring has impacted you as a mentor?

A: Before, I usually met her at high school and we would share lunch together. So, not the same, but we will make it work.

Q: Recently, have there been any funny or heartwarming interactions that you’ve had with your mentee that you feel comfortable sharing?

A: We started meeting when my mentee was in 3rd grade. Sometimes a friend or two of hers would join us. She was shy at first. We would have great fun being very silly. She taught me how to be silly again. I recall an especially fun day when we all donned mustaches. In middle school, she joined the band. I rented a clarinet so we could play duets. It had been 45 years since I had played. She thought it was crazy. Crazy fun! She is graduating high school this year and will play her last Varsity game soon. I will attend along with her parents. It will be emotional for me. That silly little girl has grown into a caring, thoughtful, engaged citizen of the world (and an awesome athlete as well). What amazing gifts she brings to the table of her choosing. My mentee has been a priceless gift to me, and I could not be prouder or more honored to be her mentor. (I hope she doesn’t think she is getting rid of me, just because she is graduating high school!).

Derrick Townsend 

Q: How has your experience serving as a mentor for APIE impacted your life?  

Growing up without a father figure in my life had its challenges. However, it has made me a better man because of it. When my wife and I had our own children, I ensured I was there for them. I rarely missed any events they had because it meant that much to me to be there for them. Not only because I didn’t have that support, it just felt right for me to be there. The feeling of gratitude I received from them made my life even more complete. There were many times I would go to different school or sporting events, there would be some kids there whose parents didn’t show up for them. That touched my heart and that’s when I started mentoring.

I’ve been a mentor for over 25 years or more. I’ve mentored students from elementary school through college. However, my most memorable age group has been the middle school students. In mentoring this age group, I personally feel I’ve made the most impact on the students I’ve mentored. Also, this age group of students have left the elementary school environment and are now beginning their tween years. These years of middle school prepares them more for life leading them into their high school years. The bonds I’ve made with students over the years. I hope I’ve made a difference in their lives. In sharing my own personal experiences, I hope something I’ve shared provided some insight on their lives to enhance them in a positive way toward their future.

In addition, the reception I feel from the students and office staff upon my arrival to the school makes me feel good about mentoring as well. I feel like I’m making a difference in a young person’s life. Additionally, to know the student is looking forward to my coming to visit with them each week. That’s really fulfilling to me and hopefully to the student. I’ve always let my mentee know they have a friend in me. If they want to confide in me it’s ok, if not it’s ok too. Building a rapport with the students means a lot to me and hopefully with the students. Their futures are important to me for them to succeed in life.

Q: How do your feel the transition from in-person to virtual mentoring has impacted you as a mentor?

The transition will have it challenges once I get to meet with my mentee virtually. However, we will make the best of it for sure. My mentee is a very cool young man who has a passion for sports. Baseball primarily, he loves the game. When I met with him we always had our conversations in the gym or outside tossing a ball around or playing basketball as well. That part of mentoring in person will be missed.

These interviews were originally published the December 2020 issue of The Mentor Connection, which is APIE’s newsletter for current mentors. The issue was edited by Gabriel Casanova.

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