During a Mentor U presentation earlier this month, youth activist Roy Juarez Jr. helped mentors in Spring Branch ISD better understand their mentees on several levels by sharing stories of his childhood homelessness.
At 7 years old, he fled with his mom and five siblings from domestic violence at home in San Antonio and were constantly on the move to get away from his father. Juarez said it was impossible to focus on anything school related or any dreams about the future when the stresses of fear, hunger, homelessness, and anger were foremost on his mind. For gathered mentors, this mindset was eye-opening.
“We need our kids to dream,” Juarez said. “Many don’t know how. As mentors, you can be a lifeline to teach [your mentees] how to dream again.”
He also told the SBISD mentors that fears of rejection, exposure to violence and homelessness fundamentally take away the voices of children, because, culturally, they are expected to not talk about what happens at home. They build walls to avoid the hurt. Mentors can help give “voice” to their mentees by developing trusting relationships, and share their listening ears.
“Imagine the hope you are giving your mentee,” Juarez said. “The work you do is absolutely amazing. I don’t see this many mentors in most districts [I visit].”
Juarez found a mentor the hard way: At age 14, he was living on the streets or couch surfing when he could. One day he made his way to the Dallas Omni Hotel, where he hoped he could find some food. He snuck into a women’s conference banquet, and there heard a keynote speaker, Retired Lt. Consuelo Kickbusch. She shared with those at the banquet – including the uninvited Juarez -- that her father taught her to say, “Why not me?” when faced with an opportunity or a challenge.
Juarez encouraged the SBISD mentors in the room to teach this powerful affirmation to their mentees. Words are powerful, he said.
Seven years later, Juarez coincidentally heard Kickbusch speak again. This time he introduced himself and told her about the time he had heard her in Dallas: “Your words gave me a second chance and hope.”
This encounter lead to an internship in Kickbusch’s Educational Achievement Services company. She encouraged him to attend college. He eventually earned a degree in marketing with a minor in psychology from his mentor’s alma mater, Harden Simmons College in Abilene, Texas.
From this milestone in Juarez’s story, SBISD mentors learned that words of hope, consistent support and high expectations can motivate mentees to achieve dreams.
Upon graduating from college, Juarez embarked on a tour from California to Florida to share his “never give up” story with thousands of youth. During this journey, he stayed with friends, and therefore was “homeless by choice,” which is what he named the tour and a subsequent book.
Ten years later, he is still crisscrossing the U.S. and the world. His inspirational messages have reached more than 600,000 kids.
Juarez told the SBISD mentors that to make better connections with the youth he addresses, the kids want to know the answer to this question: “Are you really here for me?” From this, the mentors learned that when a young person understands an adult is voluntarily investing time in him or her, and not out for personal gain, then trust, hope and confidence grows.
The positive social and emotional skills mentees gain from relationships with mentors impact connections the young person has with friends and family.
“When you influence one [young person], you are really helping about five others,” Juarez said.
The motivational speaker and youth activist finished his Mentor U presentation with words of thanks and this motivation for the volunteers: “Our community gets better when we help to make the change.”
Mentor U events are made possible with grant funding from the Spring Branch Education Foundation. We appreciate this financial support, as well as our dedicated mentors. #CollectiveGreatness
Submitted by Becky Wuerth, SBISD Communications