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Walking Alongside Them

October 31, 2009

Just as despair can come to one another only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings. – Elie Wiesel

Ten years as a Bridge Communities mentor has taught Hinsdale resident Mary MacKenzie that the most important part of mentoring is making sure people know that they are not alone.

She understands that this role requires both a financial and emotional pledge. It also requires a great deal of time. Currently, Mary and a friend are walking alongside Mary’s fourth client through a community group at Christ Church of Oak Brook.

As part of the Bridge Communities program, each client family is paired with a mentor team for the duration of their participation in the Bridge program. Although it helps reinforce the respectful nature of the relationship, the term “client” sounds brazenly indifferent when contrasted against the tone of deep empathy and love with which mentors, like Mary, speak of the families. “I’ve always had moms,” Mary mentions as she fondly describes her four clients, “They’re great people who just need some help.”

Meetings, phone calls, and crisis interventions are the true work of a mentor like Mary. “It’s mostly just being there for the client… Letting them know that they can depend on you.”

Knowing that they have support empowers clients to change their lives. At the end of two years, most clients have graduated from the program. That is what Mary says is the greatest reward: “seeing them continue on and becoming successful.”

Mary described one of those amazing moments. She says “one of the highs of being a mentor” was watching her second client purchase a condo in the complex. “She burst out sobbing, realizing she’d be able to own it. I just held her and told her, ‘You deserve it.’ And that’s what Bridge does for people.”

For Mary, being a mentor is a rewarding and a surprising path, but it is not one without challenges. Mary knows, though, that if ever an obstacle may arise, she has Bridge Communities to look to. “They’re always there,” Mary says confidently, “to back us up and to give us advice.”

Overcoming obstacles together is the most transformative part of the mentor-client relationship. Mary remembers experiencing such a change as she accompanied a client to the food pantry for the first time. “It was such an eye opener to me as to what it means to people to take charity. I think at that moment, I was changed… more caring, more compassionate. One of those situations I’ll just never forget.”

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