For nearly 15 years, the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance has offered a real chance at success in school and in life for students who are matched with an adult mentor. While the ‘Stand By Me’ Mentoring Program serves the most at-risk and ‘least likely to succeed’ students in Sonoma, an increasing number of mentees are doing well. They are improving their grades, and attendance at school, and also getting more involved in school activities.  When students come from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds, every bit of improvement is worthy of celebration. But, every once in a while, a student comes along who really flourishes with the amazing power of mentoring. 18-year-old Miriam Magana did not have an easy childhood. She grew up in the shadow of extreme poverty. Miriam described her childhood in her recent letter for a college scholarship:

Everyday in the United States brought the fear of being deported, the fear of not being able to pay the bills and the fear of the unknown. We enrolled in school not knowing a word of English, and my parents were overwhelmed with work. My father worked two jobs and was rarely at home, and when he was, he would be rendered immobile because of his extreme exhaustion. My mother worked as a housekeeper to help make ends meet and then came home to feed four kids. It was hard for my brothers and I to live in a home where all of the discussions centered on how tired my parents were and how much more money they needed to pay the bills. 

In 4th grade, Miriam was matched with a mentor, Linda Higueras, who helped her begin to chart a course toward a future that involved big goals like success in high school and applying to college. Today, their many hours working together on school papers and projects are paying off. Miriam applied and was accepted to ten colleges. She chose Macalester College, a small private school in Minnesota. She will be the first in her family to attend college. She wrote about the incredible influence of her mentor:

I realize how important she has been and become in my life, not only is she my mentor, but she is my friend. She has guided me and helped me with whatever she could and when she could not help, she would help me find a person who could. Being paired since I was in fourth grade with a role model has allowed me think big and expand my horizons since I was young. Over the years my dreams have grown bigger and bigger because Linda has always told me anything is possible with hard work and dedication. She has really inspired me to do big and provide the support that my parents could not. We have talked about college since I was young and now it is becoming a reality. 

These results are uplifting, but the majority of students in mentoring still face a multitude of challenges, such as a harsh home life, abandonment, poverty, drug use, neglect and violence. Their burden is just too heavy to shoulder alone, and a mentor is often their best hope of rising above the conditions of their life, to become successful students and citizens. There are currently more than 450 students who are matched with a mentor. They meet each week in school-based Mentor Centers. Many also take part in the multitude of after school activities and group events. Those include art classes, cooking lessons, fitness outings, and leadership opportunities. Mentors encourage academic attentiveness, while also offering a supportive friendship. Mentoring works wonders!