mentoring in Pittsburgh

What’s mentoring in Pittsburgh really like? Read our interview with Big Brothers Big Sisters mentor Malissa Seman.

Photo above of volunteer mentor Malissa Seman and one of her mentees used by permission.

Maybe you’ve thought about volunteering to do some mentoring in Pittsburgh, but you’re not sure what exactly that would mean. Or maybe you’ve wanted to get your child involved in a mentoring program, but you’re not sure what that would look like.

As Kidsburgh puts a spotlight on mentoring this month with help from our guest editor Bill Strickland, we wanted to give you an up-close look at what mentoring in Pittsburgh is all about. So with help from our friends at the Mentoring Partnership, we’ve asked three people who mentor through different local organizations to tell us about their experiences. Here’s what one mentor shared:

Mentor: Malissa Seman
Organization: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh
Been mentoring since: 2015

What inspired you to start mentoring? Malissa worked for BBBS from 2013-2018, so she saw first-hand the impact mentors had in the lives of the children and their families. “I waited a few years to start volunteering,” she says, “because I wanted to ensure I was in a place to commit fully and sustain a long-lasting match. I knew when I started working there that I wanted to be a Big, but was glad I waited to learn more from the staff, current matches, and families about the seriousness of the relationships.”

What’s a typical day of mentoring in Pittsburgh like for you? “I’m involved in two matches: one with Mentor 2.0 (Jada) and one with Community-based (Calie). With Mentor 2.0, the BBBS staff manages the matches through a set curriculum to help explore their high school development and post-high school options in their school, Brashear. In Community-based with Calie, we’re able to go on outings and spend time together out in the community. … Calie is very outgoing and extroverted, and having been matched for as long as we’ve been, we have a lot of historical information and are able to spend hours just talking. We also love going to the movies, out to eat, spending time outside, and we recently went horseback riding (much more her specialty than mine, LOL. I was definitely nervous and less natural on the horse, whereas she was an easy pro.)”

Is it complicated to fit mentoring into your life? “My matches have always been a priority for my life. I’ve also been very fortunate to have great relationships with my Littles and their families. So they have always been so understanding and supportive when life does get busy and I’m not able to see Calie or Jada as much as normal. Also, with my Littles growing up, it’s also a balance of fitting into their school, work, and social schedules, which has been a joy to see them grow and become more independent.”

Mentors teach, but they also learn. What’s one thing you’ve learned from a mentee? “I am constantly learning things from Jada and Calie. They are two of the kindest and most empathetic individuals. They are also so patient. Their capacity to be kind and thoughtful astounds me every time. Additionally, they have such positive outlooks on life and maintain such a pure optimism regarding life and the future.”

Do you have any mentors? “I’m very fortunate to have personal and professional mentors. My mom and sister, Laura, have always been such pillars of inspiration for me — both are strong, hardworking, intelligent, and wise women who have provided unwavering support and guidance to me my entire life. They very much lead by example and have been role models for me. Professionally, my director, Kim Martin, actually started mentoring me before I even worked for her. I was connected to her in early 2020 and was so inspired by her drive, rationality, and intelligence regarding navigating your career and the business. She is methodical and logical in her thinking and problem-solving which has helped to push and develop my own way of thinking. I was fortunate enough to be hired into her team in March of 2021 and have remained so lucky to receive her mentorship and leadership. Additionally, Kim is invested in my growth and assisting and guiding me through my professional development and doing whatever she can to advocate for me.”

What is one thing about mentoring that has surprised you? “How reciprocal it is — I went into mentoring thinking that all of the pressure to impart wisdom, or guidance is all on you. You quickly realize how much your mentee teaches and develops you. You end up growing so much together and I am continually humbled when I recognize things in myself that I know have been directly influenced by Jada or Calie.”

Why do you think mentoring is important? “Mentoring is so important because everyone needs a life cheerleader — someone to be in your corner, believing in you, encouraging you, and generally caring about you. Mentoring is not just about actively ‘helping’ but more about being there — being a constant in someone’s life that they can depend on. Mentoring is about being of use to another person in whatever capacity they need you to be. Life is hard and can be isolating, and mentors help to bear the burden and be a constant presence when you need one.”

What would you say to someone who is interested in volunteering to be a mentor but hasn’t tried it yet? “I would encourage them to talk to someone about why they’re hesitant. I appreciate people’s thoughtfulness regarding the commitment and if now is really the right time. But I think talking to someone, asking questions, and getting some guidance on your hesitations is the best next step. I would also encourage them to reflect on mentors in their own lives and be inspired by the impact they could have if they just volunteered — or to think about how things might have been different had they had a mentor, and be motivated to fill that gap for someone else. We all have something unique and special to offer to others – you just have to take the leap to share it.”

Want to learn more about mentoring in Pittsburgh? We’re happy to share this advice from longtime Pittsburgh mentor Bill Strickland, along with info on organizations that use sports for mentoring. And check out our Q&A’s with mentors Ezra Dubowitz and Jack Mackin