By: Russell White, AmeriCorps VISTA Member

In 2018, Mentor Iowa’s Female Mentor of the Year award recipient was Areal Griffin. Areal initially signed up to be a mentor because she wanted to give back to her community in a meaningful way. Areal had been introduced to the program through her work. After her office was asked to donate to Mentor Iowa’s annual fundraising auction, Areal was intrigued with the organization. A year later around the same time of year, Areal signed up to be a mentor with Mentor Iowa. Although it took a whole year for Areal to be sure, in her opinion “it all worked out for the better, because I got matched with a wonderful little girl.”

Throughout her life she has been blessed with a supportive family and wonderful friends. For Areal, she decided to become a mentor because she wanted to be able to give back to someone that needed it. “I have always been drawn to the idea of mentoring. Not because someone is less fortunate; I just want to help influence someone who is younger at a vulnerable point in their life.” As a result, Areal became a mentor on July 30th, 2013 with her mentee* and they have “clicked’ from day one!

Areal was very appreciative of the time taken by the Mentor Iowa staff to train her and make the right match. Areal and her mentee attend many group events and enjoy the variety of activities which are offered. Wonderful memories are the result of the 5 years they have been together. Areal’s mentee as told her “You are my best friend” and it absolutely both breaks and warms Areal’s heart. Areal wants to be her mentee’s best friend and to be someone who she can open up to whenever she is hurting or having trouble with something. But it also breaks her heart a little. Her mentee is quite shy and has also moved around from place-to-place, so she doesn’t have many friends.

When asking Areal about some of her favorite moments she mentioned that Areal and her mentee had gone to an Iowa Cubs game one night. Her mentee was quiet for most the evening, so Areal was not sure if she was having fun. They ended up staying for fireworks after the game. When the two of them were walking to Areal’s car, her mentee turned to her and said, “That was the best day of my life.” The night was truly rememberable for her. Some other great memories the two of them had were “getting my mentee a bike for free from a program Mentor Iowa was able to involve us in, my mentee teaching me her dance moves in my living room, painting our nails together and getting glitter all over my floor, taking her skating for her birthday and getting the embarrassing mom talk about not singing or dancing while we were there.”

Not only has their match relationship been beneficial to the mentee, but it also has made an impact with Areal. In Areal’s words “Through the years, not only have I become best friends with [my mentee] but have enjoyed watching her grow into her own strong and respectful self. She’s brought me pride I didn’t think I could feel outside of my own children. It has also been eye opening to see what it is like being a young woman in the city compared to when I was growing up decades ago in a small farm community. We have both taught each other so many intangible lessons.

As with any relationship, there can be challenges that test the strongest of bonds. Through several family moves and changing of phone numbers made it hard to communicate with each other. Fortunately, the mentee memorized Areal’s number and would call her from school to keep her up to date on where she was and how to reach her. Now, Areal is a mother of twins yet her and her mentee have managed to keep their strong bond and cherish the time they spend together.

Areal is truly happy that she stuck it out with her mentee, in face of some of the complications. Sticking around and trying to stay in contact with her by making that extra effort is what Areal believes to have made her a great mentor. She was never going to give up on her mentee. In Areal’s opinion, that is what truly makes a great mentor. “You just have to BE there. You have to be committed. Everyone has different things going on in their lives, but if you do mentor it has to be one of your top priorities. These kids most likely have been let down by adults in their lives, and you NEED to be that consistency for them. You need to be that role model. To be the consistent person in their life is the most important thing. No matter the challenges.”

In a similar vein, Areal had some advice to offer to those considering being a mentor, which was “Don’t do it unless you’re committed. Find a program that will match you with somebody that you will want to spend your time with. Just find the right program for you. I plan to be one of her work references someday. I want to be that person for her. Help her apply for college. Help her apply for her first job. I don’t want to be the person who only takes her to a ball game; I want to be there for life.” Commitment and showing that commitment is absolutely the most important thing. It may have taken Areal a full year to finally make the decision to mentor, but she has poured her heart and soul into her mentoring relationship which is going 5+ years strong! Her mentee is almost 13 years old now and suspects she will be needing some advice and guidance sometime soon.

Mentor Iowa is extremely fortunate to have Areal as a dedicated mentor and champion for their program. That is why they decided to nominate her for the Female Mentor of the Year award, because volunteers and mentors like Areal are truly something to be exemplified. Her commitment, integrity, friendly character and desire to help is outstanding. Thank you, Areal Griffin; for not only spending your time to benefit the community, but in making a genuine and strong connection with a young, shy girl from Des Moines.

Programs like Mentor Iowa are always looking for more people like Areal to volunteer and commit with their program. Are you interested in helping influence Iowa’s youth for the better? Ready to be a mentor? Click this link and become a mentor today!

*Areal’s mentee was not comfortable with being included in this story. In respecting the mentee’s feelings and wishes, the story will not mention the mentee by name.