May 5 2016

Our Mentoring Journey with Bonsa

by Bill Kiffmeyer and Laysha Ward, Edison High Graduation Coaches 

Graduation coaches and student

We've been on an incredible journey together for the past 25 years. Giving back and paying it forward has become a cornerstone of our life. Our parents stressed the importance of education, and our educational experiences provided us with great opportunities and allowed us to succeed in our chosen careers.

One opportunity to give back was through the AchieveMpls Graduation Coaches program. One challenge we had was our busy travel schedule. To overcome this, we requested to partner as mentors for a student. This way, one of us would be present at all of the meetings with our mentee.

Our journey began two years ago. We met a number of students and then were paired with a soft-spoken young man at Edison High School named Bonsa. He has a rich and challenging background, is a recent immigrant from East Africa and faces challenges of acclamation and figuring out his place and the path forward.

Our relationship started, as many do, by looking into each other eyes and building confidence and trust. We were unsure, and he was surely unsure, how this was going to go. We met monthly during his junior year, building a relationship and challenging him to stay focused on class material. We asked Bonsa about other challenges and issues he was facing out of the classroom, but remained focused on solutions, being resilient and taking advantage of opportunities that were available. We provided guidance on topics as best we could and asked for help from AchieveMpls and the school staff as needed. We set goals - achievable, short term goals - and met them together.

As we progressed through the year, Bonsa’s voice grew stronger, the eye contact steady and the smile on his face grew and grew. We faced challenges head-on and we closed the first year together with Bonsa on track to reach his goals. We stayed in touch over the summer and together went to his first Major League Baseball game at Target Field!

We decided to continue our mentoring for another year and requested the same student so we could see him through to graduation. We started his senior year by focusing on classes, his job, and setting him up to go on to college. Our meeting started with big smiles, handshakes and hugs and concluded the same way. The three of us kept each other on track, communicating via email about the progress we had made. In between meetings, we focused, joked, laughed and accomplished all of the achievable goals we had set earlier.

Last spring, Bonsa received an award at school for his leadership and commitment to service. We were honored to attend the award ceremony along with the student’s father.

We witnessed a quiet, reserved young man blossom into a strong voiced, confident young man.

I’m not quite sure how much of a direct impact we had in getting him focused on graduation, but he will be attending Augsburg College in the fall on a full scholarship. We are both very proud of him and know that he will go on to achieve great things.

This is one story of many stories. There were other phenomenal mentors in the room assisting other young people navigate the path towards completing high school and determining what’s next.

Education is the great equalizer, opens up more opportunities and can help young people not only beat the odds, but to change the odds. Service and volunteerism are essential to building strong, healthy and vibrant communities and we get more than we receive when we’re helping others. Our thanks to all the Graduation Coaches, students, educators, and AchieveMpls!

Read Bonsa's reflection on his work with Bill and Laysha