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A Curiae Anecdotes- Learnings from Mentoring: Make it a Two-Way Street

By Sachin Sharma

Muhammed Ali once said, "Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth." It’s one of my favorite quotes and encourages me to volunteer in my community.

When you think about ways to volunteer in your community, what comes to mind? Perhaps it's serving food to those in need, volunteering at your local hospital, or cleaning up a public space. All these options came up during my search for remote volunteering in mid-2020, but one that I wasn’t even looking for caught my eye, and I am so glad it did. Some of my colleagues were involved in a program in collaboration with A Curiae, who partner with federal treatment courts such as the Conviction Alternatives Program in the Northern District of California, around the country. These programs help individuals who have pled guilty to a federal crime, or served a prison term for a federal crime, with professional skills as they reenter the workforce. Whoa. This was not your ordinary volunteering opportunity and that’s what intrigued me.

Based on my background, work experience, and interests, I applied and was selected to be a mentor in the ATIP program. The team who was driving this program did a great job educating mentors on the goals of the reentry program and tips for interacting with the mentees. The Court coordinators would sit in and moderate a handful of remote mentor-mentee Zoom sessions for each mentee in the program. I wasn’t sure what to expect but was ready to help.

From 2021-2022 I had the opportunity to mentor 3 individuals, each at a different stage of reentry to the workforce. The first individual I met wanted to build her skills in public speaking, get her business idea off the ground, and achieve a better work-life balance. The second individual wanted to become more organized and develop soft skills like building business relationships and communicating more effectively. The third individual had several ideas for businesses he wanted to start but wanted to narrow them down to one and build a business plan for it.

With all three, I took the approach of developing a rapport so that we could build a trusting relationship. We talked about our past experiences, connected on hobbies, and aligned on goals of each session. Throughout the course of several sessions with each mentee, I provided guidance on how to become better organized, building a business plan, and taking small steps towards achieving their goals. We gave short homework assignments to the mentees and to make it more conversational, I also took on some of the assignments myself. For example, we went through an exercise of thinking about how you want other people to see you, which was eye-opening when we discussed in one of our follow-on mentor-mentee sessions. Not everything was rosy. Sometimes, the mentees didn’t get a chance to work on their homework and that put us behind.

As we completed each of the individual programs, I found that being as human as possible is what worked. The mentees were being vulnerable by letting me in on their lives. We built trusting relationships and safe spaces so that we could have meaningful conversations. Not only did I provide my ideas from a mentor standpoint, but I also learned quite a bit from the mentees. That is what made my experience in this program so rewarding. I highly recommend A Curiae to anyone looking for volunteering options outside the box. I’m very much looking forward to continuing to be involved!

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