One of the most exciting things about mentoring is that you never know what kind of relationship will develop. Lives can be profoundly changed, and one excellent example of that is CYC’s September Hero, Lori Meyer.
She did not plan on becoming a mother figure to a mentee. In fact, Lori Meyer was originally only interested in academic tutoring. She became involved with Cincinnati Youth Collaborative (CYC) through her church, Crossroads, and the tutoring program that is now known as Whiz Kids. Lori was matched with a young lady in sixth grade, Jacqueline, while her friend tutored a classmate named Shandreanna. When her friend ceased tutoring the following year, Lori took on tutoring both girls at the same time.
Lori had known there would be cultural differences between her pupils and her own children, but she hadn’t realized how quickly it would become apparent. Tutoring began at the beginning of the school year, and by November she tried to start conversations about Halloween, asking about the girls’ Halloween and if they got lots of Trick or Treat candy. Jacqueline told her matter-of-factly, “Miss Lori, we don’t go trick or treating in the hood.”
That statement stuck with her, and the next year Lori made a conscious effort to give them the experiences her own children were fortunate enough to have. She helped the girls make costumes and took them trick or treating in her own neighborhood. It was during that second year that Lori realized she was drawn to doing more with the girls and began incorporating them into family activities. She would have them to her house to bake as a method of learning fractions. When important papers were due, the girls would use her computer to type them. It was a natural transition for Lori to become a mentor, especially when she began to notice that Shandreanna was facing more than just academic obstacles.
“She noticed that problems at home were interfering with my school work,” remembers Shandreanna. “She still continued to tutor us … and I think that’s when she started seeing what was going on at home.”
With two mentees, it was a special task to cater to the different needs of each girl. When high school approached, each girl went to a different school: Jackie to Hughes STEM High School, and Shandreanna to the School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) for visual art. Lori remembers it marking a turning point.
“From the time Shandreanna got [to SCPA] it was a great fit and she didn’t really need me as a tutor anymore,” says Lori. “But Jackie did. I was going down twice a week to help her with her academics … It was interesting trying to get her to fly on her own, but she did graduate.”
Interestingly enough, once Shandreanna no longer needed tutoring, her relationship with Lori quickly grew stronger.
“When I started high school, we had been evicted from our apartment complex, and we didn’t have anywhere to go. And my mom asked Miss Lori if I could stay with her. So for the first year of high school I stayed with her.” The gesture still awes her as she recalls, “She didn’t even know me that long, but she was so accepting of me. That really helped me out.”
Shandreanna’s voice beams when she describes the multitudes of ways that Lori supported her on her way to finding success. Lori connected her with a job at Kroger, with a summer travel abroad opportunity, with filling out college applications. “I thought I was going to end up working right after high school,” says Shandreanna, “but she really pushed [Jackie and me] to fill out those college applications.”
The support continued through college, and Shandreanna chokes up a little when expressing her gratitude. “It really is all thanks to her that I am still around, that I finished college,” she declares. “It was to thank her, to say, ‘You didn’t waste your time on me.’”
Lori, of course, dismisses the praise, attesting, “I love having Shandreanna as part of our lives.” She continues, “A lot of people told me I went too deep, but I don’t think Shandreanna would be where she is if I hadn’t. She has become a part of our family.”
Shandreanna completed her Bachelor’s degree in Communications at University of Cincinnati, and in August 2015 she embarked on a one-year contract to teach English in China. When asked about what she might want to do when she returns, she lights up.
“I have an awesome plan,” she exclaims. “Miss Lori changed my life so much. I want to do that. I want to come back with experience so I can figure out a way to help these [inner-city] kids. They say it doesn’t matter if they finished school, and I want to tell them, ‘No! You go out there and make a difference!’ There are outside forces stopping them, and I want to push aside those forces. I don’t want to be the only kid from my neighborhood who made it. I want other kids to get out of that hole. No one deserves to be in that hole.”
The Meyer family now lives in Wisconsin, but Shandreanna has visited several times, even spending the last few days with them before departing for China. When asked to share advice to other mentors, Lori is frank, saying, “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist. You just have to be there. That relationship means so much to these kids.”
For being there time and time again for two different girls whose lives are forever changed because of you, we thank you, and we gladly recognize you as a CYC Hero.
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CYC Heroes is a monthly feature recognizing individuals who go above and beyond expectations to serve the CYC community. Heroes come in many shapes and sizes: mentors, students, ambassadors, employees, donors, volunteers, and board members. Know someone who makes CYC stronger? Submit your CYC Hero nomination to Kate Elliott, at firstname.lastname@example.org