Consistency, Community, and Empowerment: WITS Values Begin at Volunteer Orientations

Ellen WernerPrograms, Volunteers

Consistency Community Empowerment

One Tuesday, all the mentors who work with two particular second graders attend WITS together and gather as a group. The mentors have been hearing about ongoing conflicts between the two students and sit down together to help them work out their differences.

Kindergarten students proudly perform a song from their holiday assembly for their WITS volunteers. The volunteers all go out to brunch together afterwards.

A bilingual third grader delights in helping her mentor read a book about snakes in Spanish.  

These scenes are what consistency, empowerment, and community look like at WITS. The WITS staff has the responsibility and privilege of stewarding these values in each of our fifty weekly volunteer-powered programs throughout the school year.

Orientation Overhaul

This year, the WITS team made significant changes to the volunteer orientation to lead with our values. As always, the orientation includes background information on the history and scope of WITS, program logistics, outcomes, and tips on how to be a great mentor. This year, the heart of the orientation is our core values: consistency, empowerment, and community, and how mentors can embody these values at program.

Student Choice & Voice

At WITS, empowerment means that students set the pace. In the volunteer orientation, WITS emphasizes to volunteers that in a student-mentor relationship, students will share about themselves at their own pace and in their own time. Student-mentor pairs all look different because students are taking the lead.

WITS believes that students making their own choices and expressing their needs and opinions is a key component of empowerment. Within the structure of WITS programs, students are strongly encouraged to make choices that are best for them. Students choose their own books, choose whether to read or be read to, and in Workplace Mentoring, choose whether to read, do homework, or finish an activity during the last twenty minutes of each session. WITS mentors are encouraged to affirm students’ choices and show enthusiasm for their interests from day one. Students who feel safe safe to express themselves and empowered to be who they are are more likely to take appropriate risks and challenge themselves.

How do you feel when someone reads aloud to you?

The WITS team has a wealth of knowledge and experience in working with young people: we could spend hours and hours talking to volunteers about possible situations, celebratory moments, and difficult situations that they may experience with their students. Instead, we hope that by discussing our values with volunteers, they can use these values as a lens through which to view their mentorship. Navigating their experience with these values first and foremost in their mind will equip them to build a positive relationship with their student and a strong community within their program.