Vista Voices
VISTA volunteer finds his calling at GAM
by Jeff Babik
Dec 13, 2018 | 543 views | 0 0 comments | 61 61 recommendations | email to a friend | print

I remember the first time I came to visit Moab. I was working at Park City Mountain Resort and my mom was in town visiting. We decided to head south during a beautiful long weekend in early March.

I remember being absolutely awestruck the entire time. I had never seen so many red rocks – rocks that glowed at sunset and seemed to be alive in some magic and ancient way. I remember thinking to myself, “how lucky I would be to live here someday.” Little did I know that two years later the winds of fortune and fate would lead me back west from my home state of Florida with a mighty calling to serve as a member of AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service to America).

When I made the move to Moab I had no idea what to expect. What was I getting myself into? Housing is so expensive. I wondered: Where will I live, and can I afford to pay rent? All that worry has been for naught though as the community welcomed me with open arms, and so did my new job at Grand Area Mentoring.

I found my calling with Grand Area Mentoring. For 13 years, Moab’s school-based mentoring program has endeavored to break the cycle of poverty by lifting up Moab’s youth through high quality one-on-one mentoring on campus and now, in the community as well.

Mentors meet weekly with promising youth to act as role models and advocates. Starting in September 2018, Grand Area Mentoring introduced a new and exciting community-based mentoring program, which focuses on engaging students in developmentally appropriate ways that capitalize on the strengths of Moab’s offerings. Community-based mentoring is all about getting adolescent youth out into the community to learn and experience new things alongside their mentors.

Mentoring is a natural reflection of the caring heart and soul of Moab’s community. It is a privilege to glimpse the transformative power of mentoring. For example, take this quote from a 4th grade student: “I thought I was a bad person … but my mentor helped me know that I’m not a bad kid. I’m like other kids. I can make people laugh and happy when they feel bad about themselves.”

I believe in Grand Area Mentoring’s cause because I have experienced the power of having a mentor myself. I struggle with anxiety and OCD, and when I was a kid growing up, this caused a lot of problems in my life. I did not have a mentor while facing these issues during adolescence, and in retrospect, I really wish I had. However, I did have multiple mentors during my years in college and when I was dealing with traumatic events within my family.

During these times, I experienced first-hand what it was like to have someone there when no one else could be, someone who could lift you up when going through difficulties. A professor became one of my mentors, and she instilled within me a new sense of pride, of ownership of self, and a newfound hope for my future. I once again felt like I was in control of my own destiny and that I could face the adversities of life head-on once again.

One of my most memorable experiences so far happened in my first few weeks on the job. I was able to help during Grand Area Mentoring’s annual rafting trip. OARS rafting company generously hosts this event that annually treats mentors and mentees to an amazing adventure on the Colorado River.

Everyone arrived that day in early September with the utmost excitement and eager anticipation. Our trip was not without its obstacles, however; there were fierce winds that day, and “uncle gusty” was not cooperating. Many times our rafts were blown backwards, upstream, with no break in sight. Yet in the face of adversity, everyone stayed calm and highly optimistic. That’s all one can do in a situation like that, laugh at the circumstances, keep a level head, and make a game of it.

This is an apt metaphor for life and for mentoring. Both mentors and mentees face many obstacles as they navigate the tumultuous waters of life together. That is what these mentors and mentees do every time they meet. Ultimately, the only way forward is to face these hardships head on, and to do so with optimism.

January is National Mentoring Month, a time to celebrate and expand opportunities for quality mentoring. There will be a mentor appreciation party Jan. 15 and new mentor orientation is Jan. 16.

GAM’s inaugural online art auction will feature mini-masterpieces produced by mentees and mentors and community artists who support the program. The art auction goes live on Jan. 9 and will run throughout the month.

Babik is an AmeriCorps VISTA Development Specialist.

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