They met…while carving pumpkins? It sounds funny but was actually the beginning of a beautiful friendship. At the time, Keyleon, who had been in and out of foster care, was part of ACH’s LIFE Project, which promotes self-sufficiency by providing independent living housing options and skills development to young adults aging out of foster care and homeless youth, ages 18-21. And Kristine, who had recently moved to Texas and was looking to get connected in the community, had joined a monthly supper club, where volunteers make dinner for the guys in LIFE and take part in fun activities. They sat next to each other in one such activity when they hit it off.
“I thought she was really funny,” Keyleon says. “Because I never did it before, she was showing me some stuff with the pumpkin carving. We just had great chemistry, and we just hit it off the bat.”
Kristine adds, “I thought Keyleon had tons of energy, and he’s the kind of guy that fills the room, kind of the life of the party. He definitely attracts people to him. Like I was drawn to his personality from the get-go. It was easy and fun to talk to him.”
That simple interaction was the spark that marked the beginning of a long-term friendship.
And while they continued to see each other once a month at supper clubs, Keyleon says the moment they truly connected was at a Super Bowl party. “When she brought all those wings, I knew that she cared about the kids,” he jokes.
“The way to his heart…” Kristine starts.
“…is food,” Keyleon finishes. “It was fun, and ever since then, we’ve had like a bond.”
Moving toward mentoring
Kate Faggella-Luby, ACH’s volunteer mentor coordinator, also noticed their special connection and approached each of them about one-on-one mentoring.
Keyleon was up for exploring what mentoring might mean for him. “Why not?’ he responded. “Who doesn’t want somebody who can help them, be there for them?”
Kristine had already been thinking about mentoring but hadn’t been sure about how the program worked before Kate approached her. However, her response was equally enthusiastic.
“What’s kind of cool about the program is we just kind of naturally connect and hang out,” she explains. “And if you start to hit it off with somebody, you get to spend more time together. It sort of naturally flows that way.”
She adds: “Kate’s amazing at what she does. The volunteer engagement and the connection we get is the best I’ve ever seen. And the training we get about how to interact and what to do, it’s been so helpful. Just the emphasis on just come and hang out and build relationships with people, it feels really natural. It’s just a natural how you get to know people, how you build friendships in a real-life setting. I think the authentic factor goes a really long way in engaging volunteers and hopefully in engaging people in the program.”
Since being matched for one-on-one mentoring, Keyleon and Kristine have grown closer. Their lives are more interconnected. They’ve met each other’s families and shared their interests. Their common love for good food continues to bring them together: they often seek out new places to eat. “We Yelp things, and then we go explore,” Kristine explains.
It also gives the two opportunities to explore the Metroplex, and Keyleon takes the opportunity to teach West Coast girl Kristine about North Texas.
For Kristine, being a mentor has been very rewarding. “It gives me a sense of being grounded and connected to someone in Texas. Keyleon is one of the people I’ve known the longest in Texas. And feeling a sense of connection here is something that is very meaningful for me,” she says.
She also adds, “I don’t want to go through life and just feel like I didn’t do anything that matters. And I feel like this is one of those areas where it feels like if I’m doing something that, possibly, makes a small impact in Keyleon’s life, then that means a lot to me.”
And for Keyleon, having Kristine in his life has given him added encouragement.
“I think she’s the best mentor I’ve ever had,” Keyleon says. “She keeps in contact with me. She calls me. She makes sure I’m OK. She talks to me. She wants my mental health to be OK. She just pushes me to strive and be great, work harder. And that’s a lot for me. Also, she gives great advice. Like I said, she just wants me to succeed, and I can see that she wants me to succeed.”
“I think she’s helped me grow a little bit more,” Keyleon adds. “I think she gives me good energy, and I like good energy. I like when she supports my dreams because that make me go ten times harder. Because I want somebody to be proud of me.”
“I’m definitely proud of you,” Kristine says with a smile.
Kris’ and Key’s Top Tips for Mentors
- Be there. “Just build a relationship and be there,” Kristine says. “When you have a relationship, you’ll have conversations, and things will just organically happen. Don’t overcomplicate it. Just build a relationship.”
- Encourage. “Make sure that you want them to strive for anything, anything that they admire. Make them go hard for it. Always go 110 percent for them, but also make sure that they’re concerned about themselves,” Keyleon says. “It’s a bond, it’s a friendship, but there’s also a maturity level there, too. Because when you’re a mentor, you’re an adult. You’ve been through life experiences, so you can kind of lead them into a better direction than where they’ve been before and lead them into greatness.”
- Be yourself. “We’ll see some of [the volunteers], and they’ll try to be somebody they’re not, and don’t do that,” Keyleon says. “You’re being fake to somebody who’s already been through enough. So just be yourself. Just be trustworthy. Because trust is the key of building a healthy relationship.”
- Be consistent. “Show up when you say you’re going to show up,” Kristine says. “If you’re just a person who will show up and care—that’s where I think a mentor can have a lot of value: by being there.”
- Have fun! “We don’t choose to be friends with people unless it’s fun,” Kristine says. “Keyleon and I gravitate to each other because we enjoy hanging out. And I think that’s a piece of what makes a good dynamic between the mentor and mentee is that it’s fun.”