Empowering Youth Through Education

Blog: The Power of Mentoring

The Fulfillment Fund changed my life by supporting me in being the first in my family to go to college, and it provided a community where my mentor and I could create a lifelong friendship.

By Jennifer Villaman

I still remember the day when my mother handed me a package from the Fulfillment Fund. As a 12-year-old, I rarely received packages addressed to me, so I was excited to see what was inside. To my surprise, it was a picture and a letter from my new mentor, Toby Waldorf!

Little did my parents and I know, at the time, how big of an impact Toby and the Fulfillment Fund would make on our lives.

As the youngest in the family and a first-generation Latina, my family members were the only adults that I was close to. Growing up, my parents did their best to provide me with the best possible support system and learning environment, but having limited resources in our community made it difficult for my parents to navigate the education system.

Like many first-generation families, learning a new language and becoming familiar with a new city was challenging. My mother, who had received her degree in Guatemala, had to restart her life at the bottom, learn how to ask the right questions, be persistent in making sure I attended the best schools in my neighborhood, and stay connected to people who could support us.

Supporting Students and Families

Today, as a staff member at the Fulfillment Fund, I hear this same story from students' parents all the time. Not only is this a struggle for parents from other countries but also those who were born in the U.S. The education system is always changing, but many parents feel they are the last ones to know about these changes. “How can parents support their children when they don’t feel supported themselves?” one parent told me. Thankfully for my parents and myself, my mentor Toby introduced us to the Fulfillment Fund and other programs. Not only did the Fulfillment Fund support my relationship with Toby as mentor and mentee, the staff also made sure that I stayed on track in graduating high school, exposed me to new colleges and helped me through the college application process.

Toby, who was a college counselor herself, helped me open up more, be less shy, and network with new people around me. The idea of having her as my mentor was odd at first, but her compassion and support allowed me to get comfortable with her very quickly. When I was in high school, she encouraged me to stay connected with the Fulfillment Fund at events and sign up for SAT prep courses, a weeklong trip to visit colleges in Northern California, and volunteer opportunities.

My Mentor Program Advisor, Jessica, not only helped me navigate the college application process and FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), she also helped my parents feel at ease, knowing we had someone to call at any time.

Now as a Mentor Program Advisor myself, I get an opportunity to make these connections with students, parents, and mentors just like the Fulfillment Fund did with my family. A few days ago, I visited a few of my 7th grade students and got a chance to hear all their stories about the outings they have taken with their mentors so far. Those moments where I get a chance to hear from students and mentors are very meaningful to me because it shows how mentoring programs like the Fulfillment Fund can make a big impact in a child’s development, socially and educationally.

As we approach the end of the school year, I am very excited to hear about our mentors' strong bonds with their mentees and see our seniors graduate and go off to college!!

Jennifer Villaman is a Mentor Program Advisor at the Fulfillment Fund.