To this day, Heather clearly recalls her very first mentoring session with Fatima. The session did not follow the usual protocol of Project Rousseau’s one-on-one mentoring but was instead in a group setting, as Heather that day worked with a number of high school students. As Heather sat down and began to talk to the students and to develop personal relationships with them, she noticed that Fatima was particularly shy, looking down for most of the mentoring session and speaking extremely quietly. “I think that we started off with the group session because she was still so nervous at the time” related Heather. “She wasn’t yet comfortable with meeting and working with new people”. Today, the difference is truly night and day, as Fatima is now a confident graduate of high school and Project Rousseau, now comfortably settled into college.
In her junior year of college, Heather joined Project Rousseau through what was at first an interest in public education. Various documentaries and word-of-mouth stories showed her the truth of what many inner-city schools simply couldn’t offer for many underserved students. She wanted to offer these students something that went above and beyond the call of mentoring and into the realm of a genuine coalition dedicated to caring about them in a way that public schools simply didn’t have the resources to do. Fatima was one of these students and was paired to Heather as her mentee in October of her junior year of high school. At the very beginning, Fatima’s biggest struggle was in finding self confidence in her schoolwork; while deeply intelligent and with a great potential to learn, Fatima had to spend time to tackle the challenges of high school.
Heather recalled that one of the main challenges facing Fatima at school were teachers who were content with always simply providing the answers for Fatima. The victory was hollow, as Fatima would have empty information with little understanding of how to derive the answer for herself. To this end, Heather’s mentoring strategy centered on intensive tutoring that would ensure that she would be able to figure out schoolwork for herself and to allow her to develop strategies useful in coursework and standardized testing. But beyond simply working on schoolwork, Heather wanted Fatima to know her as “someone out there who would always be rooting for her”, who would support her in every endeavor. As much as mentoring was centered on schoolwork, so too did it center on getting ice cream and simply working through the stresses of the week.
When asked what she considered the biggest success of the mentor-mentee relationship, Heather proudly stated that it was Fatima’s graduation. This singular event of leaving high school represented years of work overcoming once overwhelming shyness and allowing Fatima to confidently head off towards college. Today, Heather is part of an organization called Friends of Project Rousseau, made up of alumni and supporters dedicated to furthering the goals of Project Rousseau. When asked if she would recommend Project Rousseau to other college students, Heather replied without hesitation, “Absolutely. The organization gave me such a sense of purpose. In mentoring Fatima, I was able to get the deep satisfaction that only comes from reaching out and genuinely helping others”.