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Mentor Spotlight: Grace

I started my journey with Ballet & Books as a sophomore. It was my second year at Cornell University, and I really wanted to get back into my passions of volunteering and dance. Throughout the two years and counting that I have been a part of Ballet and Books, I have had the privilege of watching my mentee grow in every way, right down to the size of her ballet shoes!

Ballet and Books gave me skills as a leader in the sense that I have grown confidence in my own abilities. Kids are an interesting group to work with because you have to be very confident in what you’re doing, or they will lose interest quickly and they will let you know. If you do not believe in what you’re saying, they won’t believe you either.

Through my time working in the ballet class as an assistant teacher or working with my mentee, I’ve also learned how to think on my feet fast. Especially working with my mentee who has different needs, I’ve grown in various ways. My time spent with her usually looks somewhat different than what the time of the other mentors and mentees looks like. Over the years, I’ve learned how to adapt all of the activities that we do every week specifically to her, which is a skill that I did not have before. Sometimes her attention span wasn’t with us that day or she was getting too frustrated with an activity, so we would shift to coloring and practicing writing letters instead of what was originally planned. It all differs week to week, but I always felt a huge sense of responsibility that it is my job as her mentor to make sure that she is enjoying whatever we’re doing and that she understands it. It’s more than just reading books to the kids, it’s about helping them increase their self-esteem too.

Currently, I’m working towards having a career based in learning sciences, so Ballet and Books has given me a perspective on what exactly it is about education that I love. As I have pursued education classes at Cornell, I’ve also gotten to have experiences working in classrooms and outreach programs. However, the difference is that in Ballet and Books, I’ve made the personal choice and commitment to being there. There is no grade attached to this, everything comes from my belief in the program and wanting to be the best mentor I can be.

Additionally, I’ve made so many friends through being in this program that I might not have met otherwise! Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I was always a driver to the Southside Center where we hold B&B in Ithaca. Every Saturday, I would usually have a different group riding with me to and from, so I got to know a majority of the people within the group quickly. We all come from different majors and are members of different campus organizations, but it was always fun finding where we connected.

For me, I think that the beauty of my experience in Ballet and Books is that there isn’t one huge impactful moment. My favorite moments are all smaller ones that combine to make a whole. Whether it’s my mentee making me laugh, the drawing she made for me that I proudly have pinned on my bedroom wall, seeing how proud all of our kids are of themselves when they finish their dance performance, or connecting with a fellow mentor, they’re all really important to me. You get out what you put into your time in Ballet and Books and being passionate about the program can give you even more.

Overall, as a college student, I think that sometimes we get told too often that we should only be devoting time to things that directly benefit our resumes in obvious ways. However, that just simply isn’t true, because I can say for a fact that those one to two hours that I spend at the Southside Center every week (or Zoom now) is the time I most look forward to in my week. Additionally, this has been one of my most impactful experiences during my college experience. Because I get to be someone outside of being a Cornell student who has 4 hours of statistics homework to do. For a couple of hours, I get to be just Grace.

Ballet and Books is a national, non-profit organization striving to reduce the literacy gap through the hybrid storytelling of dance and reading.