Success can be measured in many ways. For Aurora Mental Health Center, it is about the lives touched through the work of staff and volunteers.
One such volunteer is Cybele Antonow, who, after seeing a presentation about AuMHC Aurora Youth Options (AYO), decided to help by mentoring a young person. AYO works with Aurora middle and high-school-aged youth and their families, helping young people gain life skills and confidence for personal success and happiness.
Antonow loved the notion of helping youth in positive ways and volunteered with AYO. After getting matched with a mentee, a young woman, Katelyn Todd, who was 15 at that time, they met twice a month for the next two years.
Their meetings were in a positive space “for me to engage in positive behaviors and activities at a time in my life when that was incredibly difficult for me to do myself,” Todd said.
To help create a successful mentorship, AYO paired Antonow and her mentee based on similar interests such as cooking, photography, and psychology. At the first meeting, Antonow provided a list of fun activities.
“She circled about 17 out of my 20 I listed, so we were off to a good start of things we could schedule that could be fun to do together”, she said.
For Todd, she was interested in photography, and Antonow worked to set up activities so both would benefit, such as a 5k run that Antonow participated in while Todd took pictures.
“She also made our meetings feel special to me, and she always made an environment that felt like I was with a good friend, who was there to help me navigate life a little easier,” Todd said.
Over the next two years, they cooked a cheesecake, hung out, did homework, watched movies, shared meals and birthday celebrations, dinners with family, and a fun outing with AYO that was a ropes course.
Antonow was one of the first adults in Todd’s life who listened profoundly and tried to understand where she was coming, even though her experience was different. Over the years, the two talked and shared, while Antonow provided positive mentorship, helping with goal setting, relationships, school, self-confidence, and coping with stress.
“I had a feeling that I could really help a young person get their needs met to be really valued, heard, seen, appreciated, and guided toward their own unique destiny, and it was great to be able to have that vision come to fruition,” Antonow said.
Since the mentorship, Todd has been better at setting boundaries and surrounding herself with positivity.
Years later, they are still friends, and Todd is attending college and pursuing a double major.
“If it hadn’t been for AYO, I would have never had this wonderful relationship with such a worthwhile person who also benefitted from my support along her path to live a great and successful life,” Antonow said.
When asked what their biggest takeaways were, Antonow said the relationship has been mutually satisfying and uplifting, giving each the space to explore who they were in new ways and growing due to the interactive dynamic.
“I think the most impactful takeaway from our mentorship for me was the importance of surrounding yourself in positive environments and with positive energy. I was really struggling with my mental health and self-destructive behaviors,” Todd said.
For young people starting the AYO mentorship program, Todd says it’s about what you put into it, and the more you do, the more you’ll get out of the relationship. And while the mentor is the adult, their limited in what they can do if the mentee is not willing to work with them.
“Finding common interests or making something both parties can compromise is key to having a happy relationship with your mentor,” said Todd.
Laura Moore, AYO youth specialist, noted that a mentor relationship allows youth to grow and learn more about themselves, along with ways to navigate obstacles that life brings.
For volunteers, “it is a great opportunity to work directly in the community by building a meaningful and impactful relationship with a youth and their family. Often, these relationships continue after fulfilling the commitment in our mentor program”, said Moore.
AYO is currently seeking mentors for middle and high-school-aged youths. To learn more about the program, click here. To nominate a youth for mentorship click here. At this time, in response to COVID19, AYO is facilitating all mentor/mentee trainings and introductions virtually.
Cybele Antonow with Katelyn Todd at her graduation.