Giving Back by Diving In
Zeke Graf, FCNI Mentor
January, 19, 2016 -

Four years ago I was a bit lost. To help me find my footing again, I thought that a mentor or at least someone I could confide in, would be helpful. So I embarked on mentor relationship and it truly changed my life. And over the course of our three year relationship, my Mentor has become a father figure to me and a really close friend. Growing up in the environment that I did—parents struggling with addiction and having been homeless for a period of time—I wish I had had a mentor to help guide me through these difficult circumstances. 

One day, my Mentor I were discussing my yearly goals, and it occurred to me how great it would be to meet a child I could give back to or even teach him the things that I have learned in my life. Even if I didn’t actually teach him anything, at least I could be someone he could talk to…maybe I could even be someone who has gone through something similar to what he is currently going through. Excited by the prospect, I looked into several local organizations which had Mentor Programs. FCNI just seemed to be the right fit for me and program’s expectations seemed to match what I wanted to do. 

When I first met my Mentee at a local restaurant with his foster parent and Social Worker, he was a bit nervous. I was a bit nervous too. Thankfully, our nerves didn't matter--we still just seemed to click. Just like Lupita, the Mentor Program Supervisor, said we would.

Our first outing of just he and I, was very nerve racking for me. I wanted him to feel comfortable, so I felt this huge responsibility to get everything right. When we got to our destination—a hike he said he liked to do—we ended up just cruising along, getting to know one another, and my nerves finally settled down. We were just two kids throwing rocks in the ocean, exploring tide pools and building rock formations. He seemed at peace with whatever he was going through at the time. It was a really cool experience. 

One of the coolest moments between us was something that before mentoring, I wouldn’t have given much thought to. Before I met my mentee, I was told that he wouldn't give eye contact to anyone. It took about four and half meetings, but all of a sudden, I noticed him talking straight at me, looking me right in the eye. It was awesome! To this day, he hasn't stopped making eye contact with me, and that communicates so much to me about our relationship.  

I feel very fortunate to be able to hang out with him, and be there with him through the hard times he has had to experience over the past six months. Meeting with him also takes me away from my busy, hectic schedule of owning a business, and gives me a chance to recharge and refocus.

I truly feel that mentoring is hugely beneficial for kids and adults. Not one successful person in this world has made it there on their own. We all need someone to feed into us; and we all have something to teach or give back to someone else. 

For more information about mentoring with FCNI, please visit our website or call us at (805) 781-3535