Garage mentor

The Garage Youth Center has many mentors who help young people. Here, Lenny Rivera, a local attorney, mentors a student at the Garage in Kennett Square.

When Joan Holliday and I began selling our book “The Story of Kennett” we dedicated the earnings to a scholarship for a graduating high school senior that represented what we found in the community - the spirit of volunteerism. The first award went to Edwin Castenada. He was the first in his family to go to college. Edwin was the Treasurer of the school’s Humanitarian Club which raised tens of thousands of dollars for childhood cancer research.

His next stop was the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton school. A highlight of Edwin’s journey through the Kennett system was being mentored by Michael Bontrager.

Mike met with Edwin during his high school years and taught him more than accounting and how to get a great college education.Mr. Bontrager is a founder ofthe Square Roots Collective, a backbone of the nonprofit collaboration that helps Kennett stay vibrant and growing. I’m sure some of that mindset rubbed off on Edwin.

Much of what we learn during the high school years is not learned in the classroom, which is true for other grades, as well. In our book we talked about Mentoring Youth in Kennett Elementary (MYKE). In ’97 at a Bridging the Community meeting, Joan Holliday pointed a couple of people toward the Creative Grandparenting organization started by Bob Kasey. To date, this effort has trained over 6,000 mentors for the schools in Delaware.

Gerry Zippilli, Admiral Jim Wilson, and John Wood started up MYKE, modeled after “Creative Grandparenting”and it has made a tremendous impact on the young people in our Kennett elementary schools----one adult on one child. The great thing that happened was the work that MYKE started was picked up by Chatham Financial and they have been resourcing the coordination of these much needed resources through the “Together for Education“organization.

This is not something that I have a passing interest in as I was on the board of “Creative Grandparenting,” now “Connecting Generations”, for over a decade. And as an aside, Bob Kasey, the one who started a mentoring program so he could be closer to his grandchildren, was my boss’s boss at DuPont and probably the best mentor I ever had in my career.

I think there is an idea of what mentoring is in business. Senior leaders pick a hot shot and nurse his career along. But it is more complicated than that. You can be taught to mentor and at DuPont we even mapped the process. Women were having trouble finding good mentors and we developed a culture of a mentor rich environment.

Even today over 60% of women in one study said they had never had a mentor. People with mentors are five times more likely to get promoted. In today’s world there is the development of not only an “old boy’s network”, but an “old girl’s network” and today just a “mentoring network”.

My department at Penn State, Industrial Engineering, has a mentoring program linking IE graduates in industry with current students. The idea is to smooth the transition from student to career engineer. The young woman they set me up with reminds me of the young women who were coming into DuPont 30 years ago. You know, just like the boys but smarter. The third student that won “The Story of Kennett” award, Molly Hohner, is in the Penn State IE program as a sophomore.

I mentor a high school Sunday school class on their spiritual journey and until the pandemic a 6th Grade Running Club for “After-the-Bell.”I was told that the three most important people you need in your life are a clever doctor, a creative accountant and a forgiving priest. I have to agree that my pastor and accountant have helped me greatly. But the greatest mentor in my life has been my doctor, who is also my friend. We ran every weekday morning for a half hour for 30 years. It helped us to stay fit and we mentored each other in the task of living well.

What are the gaps in your skills or knowledge? How can you fill those gaps and is there someone who could help? This is one of the reasons why people say; “It’s not what you know but who you know.” At the Kennett Food Cupboard, where I’m a board member, we teach a course on how to get out of poverty. We teach that there are three layers of our society Poor, Middle Class, and Rich and they have three different priorities of what is important. For the poor it is family and friends. For the middle class it’s what you know and what you can do. For the rich it is what influence you have and who you know.

My wife and I have found a rather profound program on Netflix that is every bit as good as “Tidying up with Marie Kondo” who is the consummate mentor of neatness. It is called “Queer Eye.” It is five men who mentor a person for a lifestyle makeover to get their life in order around hair, food, design (home/office), clothes and culture (relationships…).They make profound changes to a person’s life.

One of the best mentors in my life is Joan Holliday who wrote the book with me “The Story of Kennett”. I went to her five years ago and asked her as the Public Health Nurse for Kennett what the community needed and she has been helping me answer that question ever since.

Look for mentors in your life and help others. It is one of the most important contributions you can make to your community. Everyone wins with good mentoring.

The Story of Kennett may be purchased on Amazon and at the Mushroom Cap or Resale Book Shoppe in Kennett. Contact Joan Holliday at
comments powered by Disqus