San Miguel mentors get as much as they give

By Jane Onstott

Many people, especially those without their families nearby, enjoy connecting with others through volunteer work. Although there are plenty of opportunities here in San Miguel to be of service, one of the most rewarding is mentoring university students in the Jóvenes Adelante (J.A.) scholarship program.

During his six years volunteering with the San-Miguel-based not-for-profit, Jock Whitehouse has mentored as many students. When asked why he does it, he said, “You have a chance to really influence students in the right direction … and you can see the results. Academically, socially, and even spiritually … you help them keep their vision [of graduating from university] alive.”

No newcomer to Mexico, Jock was raised in Mexico City between the ages of 5 and 15. When doctors told his parents that the child’s rheumatic fever would improve in a drier climate, his parents bypassed Arizona and moved to more exciting Mexico City instead. The thoroughly bilingual youth returned to the US to attend prep school in Pennsylvania, but returned to Mexico in 2003 after a career of nearly 40 years in marketing and advertising.

While Jock’s Spanish is excellent and native-speaking mentors obviously communicate with ease, others make up for lack of fluency with sheer exuberance. Judy Holden, of Vancouver, Canada, has been a mentor for eight years. After retiring from a satisfying career as a psychotherapist, she enjoys helping young people focus on career goals and solve problems. Judy calls being a J.A. mentor “the best volunteer job you can have,” describing the students she has worked with over the years as “the perfect ‘designer grandchildren’: enthusiastic, bright, responsible, reliable, adorable, successful, and appreciative.”

A mentor is assigned to each Jóvenes Adelante student when he or she enters the scholarship program and, barring any glitches, works with the same student through graduation. Judy has developed close relationships with most of the young women she has mentored. She often celebrates milestones as well as holidays with them and their families. “We take an interest in all aspects of students’ lives so they can have the best possible university experience,” she said.

Mentors, and the supportive services of Jovenes Adelante which include counseling services have helped students faced with the following issues: one student wasn’t getting paid by her employers, another suffered depression, and one young woman was falling behind on schoolwork due to illness. Others are challenged to balance the needs of their families with demands of the university. All of these things can be difficult for students who are perhaps away from their nuclear family for the first time in their lives. Mentors’ responses vary from simply offering emotional support or suggestions to helping line up counseling, tutoring, or other professional services.

Jock tends to maintain a professorial demeanor and not become too involved with students’ families. He sees the mentor as an objective third party to whom most students react very positively. “It’s the well-being of the student that matters,” he asserts, “no matter what your mentoring style.”

Judy, Jock, and J.A.’s other 60-plus mentors can be especially helpful when students are preparing to graduate. During this stressful time they are writing theses, creating resumes, and making important career choices and other potentially life-changing decisions.

Currently Jóvenes Adelante has a number of students in need of enthusiastic mentors. Jovenes hopes to fund an additional 20 students this year so there will be an opportunity to mentor a student from his or her first days in university. In addition to financial support and mentoring, San Miguel de Allende’s most comprehensive scholarship program offers English tutoring, laptop computers, psychological counseling, life skills courses, and networking opportunities.

For more information about how to sponsor a Jovenes Adelante student visit
To learn more about the mentoring program and to volunteer contact:
Esther Rocha or
Linda Sorin

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