Jane Bryson first learned about San Francisco Achievers through her church and was intrigued by the organization’s mission to reduce the achievement gap for young African American men in the city’s high schools, but she didn’t initially see herself as “mentor material.”
“I really wasn’t thinking I would be a mentor. As an older white woman, how was I going to be accepted in that role?” Jane, who still works full-time for a government agency, agreed to begin her involvement with SF Achievers by exploring internship possibilities for scholars, but Executive Director Gregory Collins and Catherine Bradshaw, Director of Program Development, continued to encourage her to dive in and sign up to work directly with a student. Jane credits the SF Achievers team with doing an excellent job of matching mentors and students, which shows in the bond she and her mentee, Richard Amaechi, have built.
The pair first met in July 2015, as Richard was about to enter his senior year at Abraham Lincoln High School. Richard, with 2 older sisters who had already been to college, was familiar with the application cycle. Jane, who has no children of her own, quickly learned first-hand what today’s college admissions process looks like, especially for someone like Richard who set his sights high. During the fall, the two met weekly, as Jane reviewed his college essays, scholarship applications, and also helped with SAT prep. She accompan- ied him to a local college fair for historically black colleges, a process she likened to speed dating as they moved from booth to booth. Once applications were in – he ended up applying to 17 schools – they continued to check in to monitor college responses and Richard’s senior-year classes. This mentor-scholar pair exceeded SF Achievers goal of communicating over phone or in person twice a month, but that was what worked best for them. Jane noted that mentors do not need to directly provide all services. “You can be more involved with the coaching yourself or work with the SF Achievers staff to help scholars find the resources they need,” says Jane. “The goal is to be a person who is focused on that one student, [to] help them define what they want. You are the sounding board for the individual student and help them hone in and prioritize.”
In the end, Richard chose to attend San Diego State University, which offered him generous scholarship support and a place in its honors college. Now a freshman, he is studying international business and learning Japanese as part of his coursework. He and Jane check in less frequently now, but they still FaceTime—a skill Jane learned from Richard. “You will definitely keep up with the younger generation through mentoring,” said Jane.
Reflecting back, Richard is deeply grateful for the support his mentor provides. “She has been so kind to me. I have a lot of different mentors and people who try to help me, but with Jane, she puts me first—she’s just always there, and I don’t take it for granted,” said Richard. “I really appreciate it.”