Volunteer Spotlight: Mentor Mary Michaelsen

cha-dev Events, Mentor

Mary and her mentee, Zee, making mac&cheese at Rights of Passage.

It was Christmas time of 2018 when Mary first came into Covenant House Alaska’s Youth Engagement Center. It was an Adopt-A-Day event with her company, Wells Fargo; they served lunch and played fun games with youth and staff. During this event, Mary was able to sit down and talk with the youth as well as the staff. She learned about some of CHA’s other programs and volunteer opportunities—one being the mentorship program at Rights of Passage. It was shortly after that event she submitted a mentor application. She began her mentorship in March of 2019.

When asked why she wanted to become a Rights of Passage mentor, she replied, “I have 2 little sisters, one is 13 and the other is 22, who still live back in the Midwest. I’m still really close with them and teach them a lot of things young people need to know and I’m always there if they need to talk. When I realized that the young people at Covenant House and ROP are lacking that relationship, it made me want to step in; all kids need—and should have—that relationship.” Rights of Passage mentors commit to 2 years of service in that role, in which they attend monthly group outings with ROP residents and staff while also consistently supporting an individual youth they are matched with. Part of the support that mentors are expected to provide to their mentee is sharing knowledge and expertise with youth, that will give them applicable skills as they transition to independent living. As a financial education expert, Mary was able to give her mentee tips on money management—everything from credit establishment, investing, and budgeting. Mary’s engagement in her work and love for her community has recently gained her the honor of becoming part of the 2020 class of Top 40 Under 40; this group of individuals are recognized as the top professionals in the state who have demonstrated not only excellence in their field but a deep commitment to their community. 

Mary’s mentee, Zee, recently moved out on her own and is living alone in her own apartment—Zee says it feels really great to be able to have her own place and make it her own. During the time they spent together over the past year, Mary was able to see Zee through some great milestones: Because Zee’s favorite food is wings, Mary took her out to celebrate her birthday at Wing Stop; it was Zee’s first time going to Wing Stop and now she LOVES going there. Mary was also able witness Zee’s excitement and to wish her and her family congratulations when Zee’s sister gave birth to a healthy baby. Another favorite moment of Mary’s was actually one of the first times she and Zee had ever hung out. She went with Zee to an art gallery downtown to help her hang her art up for a First Friday event, “Zee is such an amazing artist. She was very excited to finally be able to show her work in a gallery. It was just so nice to be there and see her in that environment. The gallery owners were so impressed and pleased with how much work and care she had put into it.”

So far in her mentorship experience, she has appreciated the activities facilitated by Rights of Passage staff because they are a great way for mentors to really get to know the youth, “they have had quite a bit of fun stuff that I’ve been able to go to. Just to name a few, they’ve had a retreat, a camping trip, and actually, my very first activity was an outing to Dave & Busters. It didn’t even feel like I was volunteering because it was just so much fun. We even broke into teams and competed. It brought me back to being a kid. It just felt like I was hanging out.” Another thing that Mary really appreciated throughout the year were the classes that Covenant House Alaska hosted to learn more about at-risk youth. Mary took a day off work to attend an all-day class for volunteers and staff on Youth Mental Health and First-Aid. She loved it because she learned a lot of helpful information, but also because she got to hear the perspectives of people who work with the youth every day, “seeing everyone who works at Covenant House and how passionate they are is amazing. Just being able to be a part of that is very rewarding for me.”

Mary has just recently completed her first year as a mentor and is looking forward to her second year. In reflection, she says, “Being a mentor requires me to put myself out there while also letting it be on the youth’s time. It takes time to build those relationships; sometimes mentors may not even be paired with a youth for the first year or so, just depending on whether or not they click with anyone. I’m glad I was matched with a youth quickly. Overall, I feel like I’m still pretty new and there’s a lot more to be involved with. There’s a deeper level of engagement that can be done.” Emily Weimer, an ROP staff, is impressed by Mary’s ability to connect with youth and appreciates the influence she has had, “Mary is very outgoing and open. She encouraged one young lady to go outside who had never really gone out before. She also showed her mentee, who was ensconced in street culture, that there was much more to Alaska than that. Mary has a creative heart and a strong spirit. She has shown tremendous follow-through that has made a great impression on youth.”