Do you feel that it would be difficult being a mentor to teens because you would not be able to speak their language? The generation gap would be too wide to bridge? And, anyway, you are a little on the shy side? All of those characteristics are mine, so when I had opportunity to mentor I was reluctant—until I found a mode that suited me.
In the 1990s, when I was a member of Harrisburg (Pa.) Meeting, a mid-aged psychologist and single Quaker—Pat Moore—transferred from New York to take a new job with Harrisburg Hospital counseling services and brought her adopted son, Andre, with her. Of elementary school age, Andre was an attractive, olive-skinned boy with a round face, a Native American from Natal, Peru.
While Andre’s quiet nature was typical of children his age, meeting members wanted to be sure he felt at home. And Pat seemed concerned even as they had become close as parent and child.
“I would love to take Andre with me to a Senator’s game,” I said to Pat after meeting on a Sunday. “Do you think he would like that?”
“Oh, I’m sure he would. That would be wonderful.”
While I had previously walked to the games from my mid-town studio, I had to drive about ten miles to meet Andre, then park on the island of the Susquehanna River where the AA ball park was located. I felt that I was doing something meaningful so the extra effort came easily, though I was not as easy about conversing with Andre.
I remembered as a kid myself riding the feed delivery truck with my father’s Agway employee and feeling unease with our silence. Neither of us said a word. I felt like I should have been saying something as I jogged along the rural roads. So even if Andre’s response would be, “OK” or “I’m not sure,” I would ask him little questions like “How was school today?” or “Which subject do you like best?”
Repeated baseball games with Andre, hot dogs and fries included, rolled over into indoor soccer games at the Pennsylvania Farm Show arena during the winter months. Pat, his mother, always sent money for Andre.
Was I mentoring? Andre and I were definitely developing a bond that would continue even after high school graduation. By then he had become an expressive young adult who was keenly aware of social issues.
Recently, Pat reminded me that the whole of Harrisburg Meeting had embraced Andre with friendship and encouragement. When opportunity arose for Andre to join People to People tours, he shared his interest with meeting, which responded by raising funds for him to go to Australia and later to Brazil. Andre wanted to explore other cultures and to learn of his South American roots.
Occasionally, Andre rode Amtrak from Harrisburg to Philadelphia with Michael Klinger, also a meeting member, and me to attend the sessions of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Andre had become a whole-hearted participant in Young Friends, offering innovations that held the youth to the Quaker testimonies, especially those dealing with equality and fairness.
Michael remembers what seemed to be a breakthrough moment for Andre. He recently recalled, “In 2003 we met at your house to make signs for the antiwar rally.” Still a student, Andre helped with the signs then traveled with us by bus to the D.C. rally.
“During the march I handed Andre a larger sign which had two handles. He thrust it into the air. It was like he had come of age—a full-fledged activist,” Michael remembers, clearly proud of Andre. Andre had taken a huge leap from his timid childhood to a highly motivated young adult.
I have considered the anonymous motto that had hung in our house. “The two best gifts we can give our children are roots … and wings.”
It had become time for Pat and the meeting to give Andre wings. As a high school graduate and a strong activist for empowering the powerless, Andre took to the road, traveling independently to cities across the United States, meeting with groups active in promoting equality without capitalism. During his travels, he decided to change to a more popular Peruvian name. Andre became “Jose” with middle and last family Peruvian names.
When home for a visit, I met with Jose at a Second Street pizza shop where we shared stories. At that time I had recently traveled to Israel’s occupied Palestinian territories to visit my daughter who he remembered from childhood at Friends meeting. I related my ventures as Jose told me of exchanging work in libraries and performing other chores for food and lodging with activists during his travels. Full-bodied adult conversation with Jose was a pleasure.