Spotlight on Fort Bragg mentor Larry Sawyer
Five years ago, Larry Sawyer heard about Partnership Scholars Program from a few friends who had been involved as mentors and he thought to himself, “Well, maybe I will do this later.” But there was an immediate need for new mentors to take on the growing number of students in the Fort Bragg area, and Larry decided not to put it off and stepped up to the plate. Larry was paired with one student that year, Damien, and two years later took on a second scholar, Ian.
Even though the boys were a year apart, Larry knew it was a good pairing. Larry has now seen Ian graduate, with Damien preparing for graduation in the coming year. What he’s gained from the two boys is immeasurable. “The one-on-one and one-on-two small group sharing, driving to and from places and the check-ins” are what have been most important to Larry. “It’s good to form relationships with people of other ages than ourselves,” says Larry. “I don’t have my own kids, so this gives me an experience I wouldn’t have otherwise.” Larry emphasizes the benefit of sharing experiences with those younger than himself, gaining their life perspective and giving back, imparting his own wisdom. “It’s healthy for them to have other older people in their lives,” says Larry, pointing out that mentors offer supplemental guidance to what they receive from their parents.
Over the years, the biggest challenges Larry faced as a mentor were time and communication. “It’s important that mentors be flexible,” says Larry in response to the challenge of communicating with his scholars. It took some time, but Larry found he needed to figure out what his scholars responded to, how best to communicate with them and to be flexible in his communication style. As his scholars got older, scheduling time together definitely got more challenging. “My life didn’t change, but theirs did,” says Larry. “There is not a lot of time for other things once the focus is on college.” But being understanding of these changes and challenges is essential, Larry points out. “It’s important to continue to be a person that the scholars look forward to being with.”
As for his most memorable experiences over the last five years, Larry was quick to recall the 2012 Presidential Inauguration that he and fellow mentor Rachel Binah attended with six of their scholars from the Mendocino area. He also looks back fondly on chaperoning a college tour to Chicago where he was able to get to know scholars from Southern California as well. But really the most unforgettable part of being a mentor for Larry has been seeing his scholars become increasingly comfortable with cultural activities. “Watching one of my kids go from feeling uncomfortable with going to the theater to being excited” has been a treat for Larry.
Larry has had a number of goals in mind throughout his time mentoring. “The number one goal of the program is to have these kids on track to college,” says Larry. He notes that giving scholars a variety of experiences keeps them on this path. A personal goal of his has been giving his boys a steady male adult figure, as both of his scholars do not have a father in their lives. He aims to be “a calm influence” and “the type of person that they would know enough to be comfortable.”
The last year has been a big one for Larry and his boys. “It’s great to see Ian graduate, do well and get into college,” says Larry. He looks at his relationship with both Ian and Damien as a lifetime relationship. “I’m excited to be able to continue to check in and stay in touch,” says Larry. “I feel pretty confident we will stay in contact after the boys start college.”