Elaine Belvin never could have imagined when she became a mentor to a shy, young girl at Warwick Neck Elementary School in 1996 that their story would become the subject of a national public service announcement.
But that became her reality Monday morning when Belvin sat in front of a camera, answering questions about her experience mentoring Christina Markrush.
“It’s amazing. I feel honored,” said Belvin. “I can’t believe it. I never thought 17 years ago this is where we would be.”
Belvin became a mentor in 1996 after her youngest son went away to college, and she began to experience “empty nest syndrome.” She had seen an article about MENTOR: The Mentoring Partnership in the Beacon and decided to sign up. She went through the screening process and requested to be paired with a little girl.
Today, that little girl is 23 years old and has become a mentor herself.
“I always enjoyed working with children,” said Markrush, who is enrolled at CCRI in the Early Childhood Education program.
“I definitely wanted to give back to the program.”
CEO of the Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership Jo-Ann Schofield explained that she had shared the story of these two women with the people at the national headquarters in Boston; the two were then chosen to share their story through a public service announcement for National Mentoring Month in January. It was filmed on Monday by CTP, an advertising agency in Boston, at Warwick Neck Elementary School, where Belvin and Markrush first met and are now mentors.
The two will be the focus of a 15-second and 30-second PSA, which will begin to air in January 2014.
“The story is just so powerful,” said Schofield, who said Belvin and Markrush will also be attending the National Mentoring Summit in Washington, D.C. at the end of January.
The purpose of the PSA is to encourage more people to become mentors, something both Belvin and Markrush believe in.
“To be able to help someone else, support someone else, especially a child that needs it, is so important. The rewards far outweigh the time you give,” said Belvin.
“I don’t think people realize how much of an impact they can make on young people’s lives,” said Markrush. “There’s so much to share.”
Markrush also spoke to how important it is for individuals in their 20s to become mentors.
“We need more younger mentors; you’re more of a friend than an authority figure,” said Markrush. While she had a fantastic experience with Belvin, she admits there is a difference in the relationship. “She was more like a mom; younger mentors are more like a brother or sister.”
Markrush also said that children are not the only ones who gain something from an experience with The Mentoring Partnership.
“You have as much fun and learn as much as they do,” said Markrush.
These PSAs are a normal process for The Mentoring Project. “Every year there is some type of PSA,” said Schofield. “Usually they try to tell some mentor/mentee stories.”
“We couldn’t believe it at first. It was really cool that they wanted to use our story,” said Markrush.
And their story is certainly a good one to tell.
At the beginning, Belvin describes her mentee as a shy young girl but said she could relate and made it her goal to bring Markrush out of her shell.
“I never really knew why I had a mentor. She was a friend and I got to get out of class and play,” said Markrush.
Both women recall spending time together doing arts and crafts projects, playing outside, and even just sitting on swings talking. Belvin also was able to come into Warwick Neck Elementary for special school projects and field trips with Markrush. They truly became a large part of each other’s lives.
While Markrush was at Warwick Neck Elementary, there was an hour of time set aside each week for mentoring, but that needed to change when she moved on to junior high and high school.
Belvin explained that the pair needed to meet in the mornings before school in junior high, which was manageable. Things became more difficult when Markrush attended high school and the mentoring time needed to be after school. Belvin explained that Markrush became busy with sports and other activities; she also believed Markrush was outgrowing the program during her teenage years.
So their official mentor/mentee relationship ended when Markrush was in her junior year of high school. A year went by when the two did not communicate. Then, Markrush e-mailed her former mentor. Belvin says that was one of the best e-mails she ever received. Their friendship was restored and they reconnected.
As for the relationship between Belvin and Markrush today, it is a great friendship.
Belvin recently shared with Markrush a diary she had kept of their first year together as mentor and mentee.
“I finally understand the things that were going through her mind,” said Markrush.
She can also understand Belvin more because of her role as a mentor to two young girls enrolled at Warwick Neck Elementary.
Although she has only been a mentor for about a year, Markrush does hope to have a long-term relationship with her mentees.
“I hope we have the same relationship,” said Markrush. “I also hope one of them becomes a mentor one day.”
Although she has high hopes for the future of her mentees, Markrush is focused on their relationship today.
“I hope they know they can come to me and talk to me,” she said.
She said she can really connect and talk with her mentee who is in the fourth grade, and is still building her relationship with the other mentee, who is only in the first grade. This is her first year with her.
“I feel young when I’m with her,” said Markrush with a smile.
Belvin says she enjoys seeing Markrush at mentoring events (Belvin is still a mentor to one young student at Warwick Neck Elementary) and that the two can now share the experience of being mentors.
“We share the same experiences, and now I have my own bag of tricks,” said Markrush.
“I feel like we’ve come full circle. She’s a special friend; like the daughter I never had,” said Belvin. “I’m so proud; so proud of the woman she’s become.”
After 17 years, Markrush has also finally been introduced to Belvin’s family. Because the mentoring program takes place during school hours, that was never possible until now.
“Ever since we reconnected, it’s been really good. We have a really good relationship,” said Markrush. “I really feel like I can talk to her about life things going on with me.”
During the PSA shoot, both women were clearly nervous to go on camera for a national spot. But they had each other. While Belvin was filming her interview, Markrush watched the monitor, silently cheering her former mentor on. And during filming breaks, Markrush offered a friendly piece of advice.
“Smile!” she shouted to her friend across the room.
It is clear that over the past 17 years, Belvin and Markrush have created a special friendship that they will soon share with the rest of the world.