Nonprofit features often focus on executive leadership. Conversations with Executive Directors are illuminating and important, providing a sense of organizational vision and leadership; it’s why we were delighted to interview Colby Swettberg, CEO of Silver Lining Mentoring. But program staff are uniquely positioned to speak to the essence of the work day to day, which is why we were delighted to chat with Evan Hubbard, Program Supervisor at Silver Lining Mentoring. Evan has been at Silver Lining since 2012, fulfilling his passion for working with youth in foster care, in particular the LGBTQ population. He shared his perspective on what makes Silver Lining’s approach unique, what makes for a great mentor, and how the organization got its name.
What’s a typical day like for you?
Every day is really different. As may be true for other jobs – particularly nonprofit jobs – every day here is so unique; they really vary. That’s why adaptability and flexibility are traits we really look for in our program coordinators; we need people who can keep up with the fast pace of what’s going on at the organization. I spend a lot of time supporting mentors: seeing how they’re doing, providing resources, and really just cheerleading them on. Depending on what’s going on with them and their mentee, we also provide clinical insights around different behaviors, or just more context into what youth may be experiencing as part of the foster care system. I also reach out to mentees to form our own unique bonds. They’re not just getting a mentor; they’re getting a whole team of adults who care about them and are committed to their success.
I also spend a lot of time screening and training mentors – the whole process takes about twelve hours total, which seems like a long time, but we really want to ensure that we’re getting folks who are fully on board and have the resources they need to be successful in the relationship. We want them to feel like they have the knowledge and the relationship with us at Silver Lining to reach out when they’re not sure how to respond to something or are looking for guidance with their mentee or their own self-care. Building relationships with other providers and program development are also major responsibilities for me – I’m always looking at ways we can adapt our programs to better serve our young people. There’s a need for this service and no one else is doing it. As the Program Supervisor for our Community Based Mentoring Program, I also spend a large chunk of my time providing supervision for our Program Coordinators, and managing the day to day functions and health of the program. I’ll top off the list with data entry, community engagement speaking opportunities, etc.
In addition to comprehensive training, what makes for a great mentor?
We’re looking for people share our values. We want to make sure that our mentors are long-term match links – people who are dedicated to being in a young person’s life over time. We’re looking for folks who are going to be here (geographically) for a couple of years at least, and who are patient, eager to learn, self-aware, and above all: people who are committed. Ultimately, we’re looking for people who can be a history keeper for our young people – someone who can say, “Hey, remember when you were twelve and totally obsessed with this thing?” And, “Remember when you were having a hard time with this thing? Look at how far you’ve come!” That requires being present and engaged in someone’s life over a long period of time.
What a great phrase: history keepers. Why do history keepers matter for young people?
I think it’s something we all want; we all want people who can provide us with a sense of belonging around who we are, and where we’ve been. Our lives are mapped by who we connect with in our life, where we go and who is important to us along the way. This is especially important for people in transformative years of development; for them, it’s critical to be connected to people who can bear witness, provide care and affection – someone who is with you throughout every part of your life. Having people like that creates this sense of “I’m worthy of care, love and affection – not just through this relationship, but as a fact.” For our young people, their mentor can be the one consistent tie to their sense of self when they are losing everything they know, moving multiple times per year, and often feeling incredibly alienated.
Did you have a mentor growing up?
I was a big band dork growing up – instead of sports, band was the big thing you did in my town. From the first time we had a band in our school system, which was 4th grade, a conductor who worked with high school students was coming to our concerts, saying “I want to see you in four years.” He would come to all of our concerts, even though he wasn’t the conductor, to say “I want to see you here – I want to see you on my stage.” I remember him saying that to me many times; it wasn’t because I was the best, but because he wanted to grow my potential; he wanted me to stay involved. In high school, he became a big part of my life. We were on the road often performing, and he knew a lot of what was going on for me. He knew when I was struggling in classes, he knew my family; he was someone that I knew I could talk to. There were definitely times I thought I was done, over high school, etc. and he said, “You can give up now, but I’m not going to give up on you.” That was incredibly powerful for me as a young person – to have that grounding and unconditional support; someone who saw my potential and held onto that even when I couldn’t see itAnd it wasn’t just me – he was a huge presence in our town; he would go to graduations and community events because he cared.
A lot of times our mentors here fill that role, which is incredible. They’re the ones that are showing up for young people. They’re the person who is going to softball games, competitions, shows, etc. One of our mentors told me about a transformative moment she experienced, actually, at her mentee’s softball game, where she realized, “If I wasn’t here, she’d have no one. I’m her “person”.” Her mentee leapt off the field and gave her a huge hug – saying she couldn’t believe her mentor had come. And her mentor’s thinking, of course I would come. Of course I would be here. When you think about that person who is there during major moments, like moving to a new residence, graduation, and in general navigating new experiences – our mentors are often filling that role for our young people- and that’s incredibly special.
How have young people shaped the program?
It’s really important to Silver Lining that we are a youth-focused organization, which means we don’t do anything “for” youth without their involvement. Everything is shaped by their insight and input. I think that’s really embodied in how we approached our name change a few years ago. We were founded under the name Adoption and Foster Care Mentoring. We heard from our mentees that they were really proud to be part of our family, and especially proud to introduce their mentors to other people out in the world. But some young people were saying, “Every time someone asks where my mentor is from, I have to talk about adoption and foster care.” Some people were fine sharing that part of their life experience in a really open way, but others just didn’t want to have to have that be the context of introducing their mentor. As an organization, we brought our young people into that process and decided we were going to rename ourselves. We said “We’re in our adolescence now” and need to respond to these emerging concerns. We polled our youth on what we meant to them, what our name should be reflective of, etc. During one of our brainstorming exercises, one of our mentees came up to us and asked for silver glitter. Someone offered the mentee gold, and they were adamant about wanting silver. They were drawing a rainbow, and outlined it in that silver glitter.The mentee said, “The world of foster care in my life is pretty dark. But my mentor and AFC – you’re my silver lining. My mentor makes life better. You give me hope for my future.” And we saw all of the youth in the room nodding their heads. We all just kind of looked around the table and went, “Yup, that’s it.”
In addition to our name, our Learn and Earn program came from seeing our young people getting ready to age out of care and trying to provide new resources for them. We’ve really crafted our policies around program that based on their feedback.
What’s on the horizon that you’re really excited about?
One of the things I’m the most excited about is to serve more and more young people. We’re going to be able to serve more young folks, which means we’re going to be able to innovate more. We know that there are many young people in the Boston region that could use services like Learn and Earn, and we are growing and developing to be able to meet the extensive need. I’m excited about us being bigger thought leaders and talking to other providers about our work and our models. We’re able to provide that sense of permanency, sense of belonging, what many young people in the foster care system lack.
There are amazing mentoring organizations, but the role Silver Lining plays is so unique. We’re targeting the foster care population in most need of support – these are folks who deserve community and need that, as we all do. We had a mentee who came in just last night and said, “I’ve got a biological family, but I don’t have a lot of connections to them. But I have a second family through Silver Lining.” We build that sense of connection through so many venues and programs, and I’m excited to bring something so fundamentally important – sense of belonging – to more young people in the Boston area.