Rachel Weidenfeld of Jamaica Plain was matched with her “little sister” Garshae Mowatt-Mckenzie of Dorchester eight years ago through the Big Sisters/Little Sisters Association of Greater Boston. At the time, Mowatt-Mckenzie was in fourth grade. Now she is a senior at the Boston Community Leadership Academy and the recipient of a competitive academic scholarship.
Big Sisters is an organization that pairs girls with caring adult female role models. Weidenfeld first became interested in mentoring when her coworker started doing it and she decided to give it a shot.
“When I started as a Big Sister, I imagined I would help a kid see cool stuff,” she said. “I didn’t realize how quickly she would start to feel like family.”
It’s hard to imagine a better role model or a more qualified mentor than Weidenfeld. The Director of Community Health at Justice Resource Institute in Fall River, she possesses Master’s degrees in social work and public health.
Since 2011, Weidenfeld has met with Mowatt-Mckenzie a few times a month to do activities that foster self-confidence, drive and academic achievement.
“At first, we read books and wrote stories, went to museums and made art, walked in the woods and window-shopped,” said Weidenfeld. “These days we spend a lot of time talking.”
Big Sisters asks mentors for a one-year commitment. Eight years later, Weidenfeld and Mowatt-Mckenzie are more like close friends than mentor and mentee. Weidenfeld has said that mentoring Mowatt-Mckenzie has been one of the most rewarding experiences of her life.
“I feel inspired by her,” she said. “It’s been amazing to see her navigate her teen years with poise.”
Mowatt-Mckenzie credits Weidenfeld for helping her realize her academic and creative potential.
“She helped challenge me as a person and as a student,” she said, adding that her mentor always encouraged her to apply herself.
Big Sisters is one of the 373 mentoring programs in the state under the umbrella of the Massachusetts Mentoring Partnership (MMP).
“Every young person needs and deserves a mentor who is consistent, enduring, and supportive,” said the organization’s President Lily Mendez. “Garshae was so fortunate to find that in [Rachel Weidenfeld].”
Every year, Andover consulting firm ALKU gives out a $20,000 scholarship to one deserving Massachusetts high school senior. To qualify for the award, a student must have plans to pursue a four-year college degree, demonstrate leadership and community involvement, and have been mentored by an adult through a mentorship program.
Weidenfeld told Mowatt-Mckenzie about the ALKU Scholarship over the summer and encouraged her to apply. She was selected out of a pool of 79 applicants from across the state.
Mowatt-Mckenzie is currently knee-deep in college applications, with Spelman College in Atlanta being her top choice. She wants to study mechanical engineering and entrepreneurship.
Wherever Mowatt-Mckenzie ends up for the next four years, the two women are looking forward to keeping in touch via email and video chats.
“I hope we can continue this relationship,” said Weidenfeld. “I’m her cheerleader. I’m there for her.”
Weidenfeld’s “little sister” will receive her ALKU Scholarship award on November 12 at the MMP’s annual Cheers to Mentoring event at the Liberty Hotel in Boston. As usual, Weidenfeld will be there cheering her on.
To learn about becoming a mentor to a young girl, go to bigsister.org.
Chapter & Verse
The Chapter And Verse literary reading series continues on Friday, Nov. 8, 7:30 p.m., at the Loring-Greenough House, 12 South St., Jamaica Plain Center.
The following are the featured authors:
George Kalogeris is the author of a book of paired poems in translation, Dialogos (Antilever, 2012), and of a book of poems based on the notebooks of Albert Camus, Camus: Carnets(Pressed Wafer, 2006). His poems and translations have been anthologized in Joining Music with Reason, chosen by Christopher Ricks (Waywiser, 2010). His current book of poems is Guide to Greece, (Louisiana State University, 2018). He is the recipient of the James Dickey Prize for Poetry. He teaches English Literature and Classics in Translation at Suffolk University.
Margo Taft Stever: In 2019, CavanKerry Press published Stever’s book, Cracked Piano, and Kattywompus Press published her chapbook, Ghost Moose. Her other poetry collections are The Lunatic Ball (2015), The Hudson Line, (2012), Frozen Spring (2002), and Reading the Night Sky (1996). Her poems have appeared widely in journals such as Verse Daily, upstreet, Plume, Blackbird, Salamander; “poem-a-day” on poets.org and in numerous anthologies. She co-authored Looking East: William Howard Taft and the 1905 U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Asia (Zhejiang University Press, 2012 and Orange Frazier Press, 2015). She is the founder of the Hudson Valley Writers Center and the founding editor of Slapering Hol Press (www.margotaftstever.com).
Crystal Williams has published four collections of poems, most recently Detroit as Barn, finalist for the National Poetry Series, Cleveland State Open Book Prize, and the Maine Book Award. Her third collection, Troubled Tongues, was awarded the 2009 Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the 2009 Oregon Book Award, the Idaho Poetry Prize, and the Crab Orchard Poetry Prize. Her first two books, Kin and Lunatic, were published by Michigan State University Press in 2000 and 2002. Her work has appeared in many leading magazines, including American Poetry Review and Virginia Quarterly Review. Her poems appear in numerous anthologies, including: Angles of Ascent: The Norton Anthology of African American Poetry. She is both Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion and Professor of English at Boston University.
Suggested donation: $5.00 or whatever you can afford. (We mean this. We would rather have you than your money.) Free refreshments are served.
Parking Information: The Loring-Greenough House has a parking lot, but four spaces are reserved for ZIP Cars. Please respect these spaces, and also please try not to park on the grass. There is nonrestricted street parking and a large, free public parking lot off Centre Street between Burroughs and Thomas Streets just a block from the Loring-Greenough House.
For more information check our website at http://jamaicapondpoets.com or email [email protected] or call 617-325-8388. The next Chapter and Verse Literary Readings in the 2019/2020 Series will be on Fridays December 13, January 10, February 14, March 13, April 3 and May 8.