Melissa and Shantel
About the Pair
In 2008, before Melissa even met her mentee, Shantel, she already knew they had a lot in common. Both were from Caribbean backgrounds, both were raised in East Flatbush, and both were mentees in the iMentor program. Melissa was one of iMentor’s first mentees during her senior year at Erasmus Hall in 2000. She credits her mentor, Lexy, with helping her choose a college and prepare her applications. Eight years later, as she finished a master’s degree in public administration at Long Island University, Melissa decided she wanted to follow Lexy’s example and give back to the program that had helped her. “My mentor is the reason I am on this path. I know the impact that iMentor has made on my life and I wanted to do the same thing for another young person in my community,” she says.
Melissa was matched with her mentee, Shantel, who was a freshman in the Boys Hope Girls Hope program at Catherine McAuley High School. The two were enrolled along with 29 other pairs from the school in iMentor’s four-year College Readiness program. Melissa was immediately excited about the match. “iMentor did a great job matching us. I see similarities in her and in myself as a high school student,” she says. “We were both trying to find ourselves and to fit into the grand scheme of things.” Melissa and Shantel got to know each other as they exchanged weekly emails and met once a month at group mentoring events. Shantel says, “It is easy to talk to Melissa because she’s been through everything I’ve been through.”
When they first met, Shantel was adjusting to the challenges of living in the McAuley dorms during the week and her rigorous high school program. “When I was a freshman, I wasn’t that serious about school. I kept getting into trouble, but I was tired of it,” Shantel recalls. “Melissa encouraged me to let tough moments pass instead of reacting too quickly.” With Melissa’s guidance, Shantel began focusing more on her goals: getting on the honor roll, exploring a career in nursing, and expressing her creative side as a singer.
High school progressed, and their mentoring relationship matured along with Shantel. “As I grew older, [Melissa] started to tell me more about college and career,” says Shantel. During her senior year, with college becoming a reality, Shantel grew concerned about paying for school. These were pressures that Melissa understood, and she used the iMentor curriculum to help Shantel learn about the financial aid process, explore part-time jobs, and share her experiences about balancing school and work. Melissa knew her role as a mentor was to help Shantel feel empowered instead of overwhelmed. “The financial aid process can be tough, and my major goal is to keep her positive and to motivate her as she explores all her options,” says Melissa.
Shantel was relieved to have the support. She explains, “I didn’t understand how student loans worked and how I would go about paying them back. She helped with that.” Melissa also made sure to remind Shantel about important financial aid deadlines and to clearly explain the application process. It is a lesson she’ll take with her into college. “Next year I have to reapply, so it was really important for me to figure out now what I am going to need to do.”
After four years, Melissa is proud of how far Shantel has come. “I admire her strength and character. She is a strong, intelligent young woman who knows where she wants to go,” said Melissa. Shantel’s hard work has really paid off, and this fall she will be attending Gwynedd Mercy College to study nursing.
Their four-year match may be over, but Melissa will be standing by Shantel throughout college—just like Lexy was for her. Shantel says, “Every year, we got closer and I started to know more of her. When I go to college, I hope that we do the same.” Melissa is certain they will keep in touch. “I definitely want to continue to be part of her life like my mentor has been for me,” she says. “I want to be sure I can continue to provide support or advice.”
In a few years, the pair will have one more thing in common—both women will have the distinction of being the first in their families to finish college.