Ten Questions with Community Lodgings Mentor Christine Suchy
Christine Suchy has been a mentor for five years. Christine gamely answered ten questions about her volunteer experience as a Community Lodgings questions during a long car trip to New York. She was our “Volunteer of the Year” in 2015 for a particularly heroic act – read our questions and answers below to find out what she did!
How did you hear about Community Lodgings?
About six year ago I met some boys who were part of the Community Lodgings’ boys’ mentoring program at the Arlandria farmers market. I walked by and they were roping people to come in for a fundraiser the next day. Normally when I hear “fundraiser” I want to head for the hills, but they were so intriguing and engaging that I came to the event. Between the corn toss and face painting, Efe Foster (a former Community Lodgings staff member) roped me in. She asked me if I wanted to tutor.
So, I tutored and it didn’t go so well. My tutoring skills needed development. I guess I’m not the best person to teach math to a fourth grader. It was a great experience but a couple of months into it I was asked to mentor. I had heard of the mentoring program and didn’t want to do both. By default I took mentoring because it sounded non-math. My first experience was the baby shower for Miss Stephanie (Hemmert). I didn’t know what to make of it. It was my first baby shower ever – people were wrapped in toilet paper! I am from Germany and we didn’t do things like this. I loved the interaction that the girls had with the mentors and also between the girls. It was a very small group and there was lots of giggling. The mentors put a lot of work into the games to make them fun and engaging. I thought that this was something I could do. I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t know if it would be just fun and games.
What do you do with the girls? What is a typical session like?
We do stuff that’s fun like game night. We have introduced team building where the girls are dependent on each other to resolve something. We always try to add an educational component by inviting guest speakers, or creating a scenario where they tell us how they would handle something. We do fundraisers, and with the money we raise we go bowling, ice-skating, or to a trampoline park. Those are highlights for them and it keeps them coming back. I have also done things I wouldn’t not have done otherwise, like zipline or visit an aerial park. Mentors get pushed out of their comfort zone too.
There is no typical evening. It depends on group. You can always tell if something going on, and that influences the tone of the evening – what we do and how we do it. So, a mentor can’t be tone deaf. We always try to do check in with the girls at the beginning of the evening to find out their highs and lows of the previous week, and sometimes we follow up with them later one on one.
Why do you continue to be involved with the girls in the mentoring program?
What’s keeping me there is the girls themselves. They are ever changing. You see the world through different eyes and see them group up. Some I knew in sixth or seventh grade are graduating from high school or are in college now. It is definitely a rewarding experience in combination with the Community Lodgings programs and staff. They are a great resource when issues come up. You are not out there on your own. They provide backup. It is important to me to not just show up to mentor. If I have a question I can reach out, and the staff is great.
What have parents said to you about the Community Lodgings girls’ mentoring program?
Well, there’s a language barrier. I hear snippets, and know they are always thanking the mentors. Sometimes I am not sure if we are tackling a touchy subject with the kids, like teen pregnancy. But, the parents want to see mentors take on these issues. They are OK with us taking on touchy subjects. We get a lot of encouragement from parents. Parents know we support their causes.
What is important to you about Community Lodgings’ work?
Their role within that community as a go-to resource for kids and parents. Everyone knows Community Lodgings in Arlandria. People will use Community Lodgings as a resource and I think there is a lot of trust there – they are doing the right thing, and doing right by the kids. They are a valuable and a much-needed addition to community. I wish there was more of Community Lodgings to go around.
What has your involvement with Community Lodgings done for you?
It has broadened my horizons. I can’t tell you on how many occasions I was reminded of how much of a struggle it can be to raise a family and to be in this country if you are an immigrant – and I am an immigrant, but had the opposite experience. I see how tough it is and the challenges these kids face. It’s so much more challenging for them to be in school, since some of them support their families (babysit, etc.) It opened my eyes and I don’t see everything through my own lens. I have a much better understanding of the challenges a family can face if they are working 3-4 jobs. Parents are working, and the kids take on a lot of responsibility that I assume is earlier in life than other kids who don’t have to babysit siblings, do housework, and take on adult responsibilities. Most of their school peers don’t have to worry about all that.
What is your favorite Community Lodgings story/memory/experience?
I have so many! But my favorite is about a mentee, Roxana, who I still have relationship with. I taught Roxana how to drive in 2014. It was time for her to graduate and get a license and we were at Route 1 and the I-495 Beltway interchange. I wanted her to drive from Route 1 to the on-ramp to the Beltway – it was what seemed like seven lanes of traffic! I said, “Roxana, are you ready?” and she said, “That’s not the question, Miss Christine. The question is, ‘Are YOU ready?’” So that was the last time we drove together, and Roxana got her license (and Christine won the Community Lodgings “Volunteer of the Year” for her bravery)! I thought that was a good moment and I am still in touch w/her. I take her out for birthday, and things like that. She will be 20 in February.
Who is your favorite Community Lodgings person and why?
All of the staff awesome. It’s equal love among Lynn (Thomas), Gwen (Spitzhoff), Melanie (Ficke). You are all fantastic! I have bonded with the other mentors, especially Stephanie. We’ve become friends and we work one block from each other. We often have lunch together and our friendship is beyond mentoring. The experience I share of life and growth with the girls and the other mentors – it’s a huge, positive part of my life.
Why would you recommend involvement with Community Lodgings to your friends?
Yes, I have recommended it for the same reasons that I stay with it – for a different perspective, the relationships, the connections with the other mentors and the girls. It’s a commitment – it’s not just showing up on a Monday night. You need to invest time and your emotions, and it should be something you are passionate about. The girls’ mentoring program needs the right people. They must come in and stay with the program. Some mentors may quit because of work or other commitments, and if they have those issues I may recommend tutoring, or something else with less of a time commitment. Mentoring is not for everyone.
It’s just not fair to the girls. We are trying to build respect and trust, and the girls may not talk or open up to you for months or years. You won’t know unless you invest the time. If they see a revolving door of mentors, what does that say to them? That you have better things to do and don’t care about them? The girls need to form a relationship and have respect for you. It takes time. Between parents and teachers, they don’t have many other adults outside their community that are in their lives. If you are asking a 13 or 14-year-old to have a productive conversation with you, it may not work if they don’t know you.
Any last words?
I think the world of Community Lodgings. I know there are a lot of programs out there to get involved in. There seems to be a huge demand for programs to help families and kids, single moms… Community Lodgings has something for everyone. I think Community Lodgings does a fantastic job. They are well-respected in Alexandria. Everyone knows what they are about and they play an important role in Alexandria. Where else do you go if you need advice or an after school program? I think families and parents are so overwhelmed, trying to make it work and supporting kids and families. It must be relief for them to know their kids are in a safe environment where they can learn and do homework.
You can never have enough mentors. Every single person can make a difference.