Mentorship In The Upper Valley
Most would agree that children deserve all the help that they need in order to develop into their best selves. Still, it may be surprising just how many programs Dartmouth has for college students that are dedicated to working with local youth. The six youth education and mentoring programs recognized by the Center for Social Impact — America Reads, DREAM, Growing Change, Outdoor Leadership Experience, SIBS and Summer Enrichment at Dartmouth — offer Dartmouth students a variety of ways to help children in and around the Upper Valley.
What makes youth service programs so popular and well-liked at Dartmouth? Some believe that the answer lies in Dartmouth’s isolation. Due to the Upper Valley’s relatively sparse population, the College’s youth service groups often travel well out of town in order to tutor and mentor Upper Valley children. Thuyen Tran ’19, the incoming student director of the work-study tutoring program America Reads, believes this can have a positive influence on Dartmouth students’ outlook on the college experience.
“There are not a lot of opportunities for you to get out of the Dartmouth bubble,” Tran said. “With [America Reads] you can get away from the campus for a little bit, working with the kids, knowing that there’s so much more than your life [at Dartmouth].”
Venice Nomof ’19, a member of both America Reads and DREAM, agrees that the travel involved with these programs provides necessary respite from the College’s atmosphere.
“It’s so easy to get stuck in your head while you’re here, and just think, ‘There’s nothing outside of Dartmouth, there’s nothing outside of Hanover,’” Nomof said.
DREAM, a mentorship program started in 1999 that connects individual Dartmouth students to nearby children in low-income communities, requires a long drive each week for student mentors to meet up with their young mentees. Nomof believes that the long drive from campus to the children’s schools gave her a nice glimpse at the world outside of the Dartmouth campus.
“[It] reminds me that Dartmouth is a really special environment where there’s a lot going on and people are really intense … and I just love absolutely love these kids,” Nomof said. “They are hilarious and really smart and they’re kind of like my friends. I can’t imagine not seeing them twice a week.”
By exploring the Upper Valley and spending time with her DREAM mentee, Madison McIlwain ’18 believes that she has gained valuable social awareness.
“I think it can be good to be aware of the needs around the community that you are in,” McIlwain said. “I wouldn’t have realized the poverty in this area if I didn’t have to see it firsthand. [My mentee] has moved three times since I’ve known her ... she is so resilient and I’m so proud of her.”
As Dartmouth students living in Hanover, we may see our surroundings as a place of affluence and privilege. In many parts of the Upper Valley, however, that is simply not the case. After discovering this, some students feel a renewed motivation to help out and share their love of learning with children in their community.
“We all want to give back to something because this is our community,” Tran said. “[Eventually] you realize that the Upper Valley is not as flourishing as it can be in Hanover. So we have the access, we have the people, we have the opportunity and we have the resources to give back to the community. So that’s why we have this whole entire Center dedicated to it.”
McIlwain believes that through her time working with DREAM she has learned lessons that will help her after she graduates.
“Getting plugged into any community that you’re in, whether it’s a city or rural community, is super invaluable because you get a chance to have that community outreach and understand a little more about where you’re from and where you’re going,” McIlwain said. “And I think that it’s a tendency of Dartmouth students to come in and be like ‘Okay, I’m here for four years and I’m going to leave in four years.’ But actually making roots and having and building a community within … is powerful and will definitely be something that, as I graduate later this term, [I will] take with me to my next location. To find people who I can help there.”
Though these experiences and lessons are valuable to members of youth service groups, nothing surpasses the joy of helping the children they work with.
“It’s so rewarding when working with the kids,” Tran said. “The kids love for you to come over. So every time I come in, the kids will get so excited. They run from their seats and they come and hug us … So you know when you there, you’re there because they really wanted you. And that rewarding feeling never goes away.”
McIlwain believes that her actions and experiences will remain of great importance going forward.
“It’s important to have things in your life that are not for you,” McIlwain said. “DREAM is stressful, it exhausts me, I don’t love it 24/7. But it’s not about me, it’s about [my mentee] … To have that kind of legacy in a relationship with someone that’s not for you, but for them, is a life skill.”
After reflecting on her time in America Reads and DREAM, Nomof cannot help but extol the happiness that children can bring to a Dartmouth student.
“I think people gravitate toward that positive energy and that optimistic outlook, especially when midterm season hits and you’re really having a hard time seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” Nomof said. “You go off campus and you get fingerpainted all over your body and you’re just like, ‘It’s okay if the midterm doesn’t go very well because the world is full of incredible things.’”