by Kath Pengelly, volunteer coordinator, Lifeworks Services
When you drop a pebble in a pond the ripples spread out and you can’t always tell where they begin or end. Sometimes when you do a kind deed it has that same ripple effect. A ripple happened at Ameriprise Financial when Nicole Tokach-Bucher, team leader, Service Delivery unit, offered to help us start a computer mentoring program.
Nicole is familiar with Lifeworks and our mission because she used to work for us, but now as an Ameriprise Financial employee she directs our work and keeps her eyes out for additional opportunities. She thought that if our clients could have mentors to learn and expand computer knowledge then perhaps work opportunities might expand as well. In the early fall of 2009, she posted a volunteer request on the company’s internal employee web site and almost immediately there were fourteen willing volunteers ready to be mentors.
Since September 2009, there have been a total of eighteen Lifeworks clients who have regular meetings with a mentor. Having a mentor means having a partnership with a person who has agreed to share their knowledge, skills, information and perspective to foster personal and professional growth.
I had the pleasure of interviewing some of the participating mentees and mentors and what I learned was that the experience did have a component of learning and expanding skills but more importantly it fostered friendships that will go well beyond the mentoring commitment.
I asked Becky Curtis who is served by Lifeworks and matched with Hamida S. Mujammad, an Ameriprise Financial employee, what she enjoyed most about having a mentor. Becky said that Hamida was a patient teacher and shared good information about Microsoft Word but also gave Becky a chance to tell Hamida all about the play, Annie. Annie is Becky’s favorite topic and Hamida gave Becky time to explore the functionalities of Word while writing about a much loved subject.
Michelle Suomela, also served by Lifeworks, was partnered with Mary Beth Glassman of Ameriprise Financial. Michelle’s face lit up as she described going to Mary Beth’s work area to practice Excel and Microsoft Office tutorials. I asked Michelle which was more important, learning more about the computer or meeting Mary Beth. Michelle responded quickly, “Mary Beth! I met a new person and now Mary Beth and I are going to go out for lunch.”
When I interviewed Mary Beth and asked her about her mentoring experience she shared that originally she was concerned about meeting an objective for Michelle. She asked herself, am I here as a teacher or just to have fun? Mary Beth said, “If Michelle learned something new then I am so happy. This was a great experience for me but it was also good for the people who sit around me to get to know Michelle. It expanded their understanding about disabilities.”
Finally Stacy Klund, another Ameriprise Financial mentor, said she was thankful for the time spent as a mentor. Stacy says she has a very fast paced, stressful job but her time spent with Holly made her feel like she was really helping someone. Stacy had never interacted with a person with a disability and was surprised at Holly’s current knowledge. Stacy said, “Yes we worked on Excel, formatting spreadsheets, but now Holly is my friend.”
We all have a need for insight that is outside our normal life and educational experience. The power of mentoring is that it creates a one of a kind opportunity. The amazing Ameriprise Financial mentors nurture learning but also have discovered unexpected friendships. Thank you Nicole and all of the mentors for starting a ripple that as of today shows no sign of ending.