The following is a guest post written by KishaLynn Moore Elliott — certified coach, author, and Summer Search Boston alumna — for National Mentoring Month.
Mentorship is the first of many gifts that every Summer Searcher unwraps on their journey as a student. My Summer Search mentor, Jay Jacobs, interviewed and accepted me into the Boston program in 1997, when I was a junior at Dorchester High School.
At the time, I was desperate to be rescued from my life struggles and sent as far away from home as possible. But Jay knew he wasn’t there to rescue me. Rather, as a mentor his job was to help me access my potential to carve my own path in the world, and to hold me accountable for walking on it. Jay’s tender-tough love helped me mature that summer, and grow in ways that I needed. These days we joke about being “frenemies”, but I take deep pride in claiming Jay as my Summer Search mentor.
The only known photo to exist of Jay and I.
In 1997, Summer Search didn’t extend beyond junior year. Unlike Summer Search students today — who now have access to college counseling, financial aid help, and other post-secondary resources — I struggled to complete college applications at the start of my senior year on my own.
I was uncertain about my options. I knew was going to need a mentor’s external accountability and insight to meet my goal of becoming a first-generation college student. My high school offered a mentoring program but my assigned mentor had abandoned our relationship without a farewell or explanation after just two outings. I decided to be persistent. I went to the program coordinator to plead my case. I asked for another mentor who could help me navigate the rest of the confusing process of getting to college. The coordinator said she had the perfect person in mind. She matched me with Sanda Balaban.
Sanda “Jemima” Balaban.
Sanda and I were in sync right from the start, even though we were different races, ages, and religions. Sanda shared with me that she had initially refused to be a mentor. She said she had to be dragged into it by the program coordinator, who was her close friend. Yet Sanda showed up to mentor me with a full and ready heart. We dove in together and swam deep. She had fascinating answers to my questions — even the ones not related to college. She made me see myself and the world differently. She was the perfect sage to help season my dreams for the future. It seemed our conversations only began and never ended.
A mentoring match made in heaven.
When the formal mentoring program concluded after three months, I asked Sanda if she was done being my mentor. She wasn’t. When I graduated high school that year with an acceptance to Spelman College and a full scholarship in hand, I offered Sanda another out. But instead, she emphatically insisted that we continue the relationship for as long as it had value. I remember her commitment moving me to tears. I was sure she would be relieved to be relieved of me. Instead, we both wanted to hold on. So we did. And we have. This January, Sanda and I are celebrating 21 years of mentorship.
Book editing retreat in Mexico.
Over two decades our relationship has expanded beyond mentorship to the purest friendship I’ve ever known. In times of celebration, Sanda’s joy is effusive and contagious. In times of difficulty, she is an empathetic and strategic guide back to brighter days. Sanda has taught me to thrive professionally as well as creatively. Shortly after college, I followed her footsteps into a nonprofit career. Now I’ve spent 15 years working in education management where I have continued to benefit from her wisdom and expertise. Sanda also helped me achieve my dream of becoming an author. She was the editor of my book, CHILDISH: Stories from the Life of a Young Black Girl, our second published collaboration.
The best things in life are… us.
Good mentors will offer guidance, advice, and friendship to their mentees. Exceptional mentors stand as mirrors, helping their mentees see themselves as they truly are. They hold a sacred space to dream collaboratively with their mentees on who they want to be. Sanda and Jay are exceptional mentors. It has been a privilege to shape myself in their altruistic reflections.