Why Mentoring Matters: How A Phoenix Teen Went From Smoking Pot and Flunking School To Find Success

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Parker and Christine

Find your wings and you will fly.  

That’s a version of what kids are told at Phoenix based New Pathways for Youth.  More specifically, they are told to figure out which wing is the strong one and which wing is the weak one.  That way, they stay airborne.

It’s a concept that helped 16 year old Catalina turn her life around.

The teen was hesitant about joining the intensive, “all-in” mentoring program — at first.  She was suspicious and closed hearted.  Mainly because her life, to this point, had been very choatic.

Catalina paints a picture of a badly broken home with a father who put alcohol above everything else.  “It’s only him and alcohol.  That’s all he worked for — alcohol.”

Her mother struggled to pay the bills as Catalina fell deeper and deeper into a black hole of failing grades and drug use.  

Until she met Christine Leavitt.

Leavitt, a mother of five and practicing attorney, was approached to become a mentor.  Despite the fact that she was incrediblybusy, she was (remarkably) up for the challenge.

“I always believe that you have time for what you really want.  You make the time,” Leavitt says.  “So, I decided I would go try.”

It turned out to be transformative in her own personal growth.

First, Leavitt had to figure out how to identify with Catalina — whose family background was very different from her own.  

“I come from a Mormon background, extremely conservative,” Leavitt says.  “I wondered how I would relate?  What do I know about their world and how can I insert myself in their lives.”  

It wasn’t easy.  You’ve heard the term “helicopter mom”?  Well, Leavitt was a little bit like a helicopter mentor.  She constantly tried to push Catalina, and her other mentee, to do better, especially in school.  “The more I pushed, the more they pushed away,” she says.  That’s when the breakthrough happened and Leavitt learned to approach the girls “on their terms”.  She established a deeper trust and stopped trying to force them to figure everything out at once.  

A year into their relationship, Catalina is a changed teenager.  “I started seeing who I really was,” she explains.  “I started seeing this is not who I want to be.  I started noticing how Christine is a great person.  She’s my role model and I want to be just like her.”

For Leavitt, a decision to make time for a troubled teen, turned into a life changing experience.  She is now watching Catalina move closer to college and a life she never thought possible.  

Leavitt says the crucial role mentors play is showing kids — many who come from backgrounds that are truly hard to imagine — that they can choose to break the cycle.  

“This can be your reality,” Leavitt tells her mentees.  “It’s hard and it will take work, but it is the hope that we have.”