“I can do whatever I put my mind to”

Lillian and Cara photo

Mentoring is a source of connection to community, comfort, and friendship for young people with disabilities. The right match can help both mentor and mentee reach their full potential, as it has done for Lillian and Cara. 

Lillian is an active PYD participant involved in the Youth Leadership Forum and our mentoring program. She is involved in the Young Professionals Advisory Board, Canine Companions for Independence, and is a crew member at New England Adaptive Sports. She is also the reigning Miss Amazing Teen, a beauty pageant and national self-esteem movement led for and by girls and women with disabilities.

Cara moved to Boston about 2 years ago after meeting great people through previous volunteer work and knew she wanted to continue that tradition in Boston. “It’s a great way to meet people in a new city,” Cara said.

Cara acknowledged her own mentors helped her establish a trajectory that aided her career immensely. Mentoring young adults in high school and college was also attractive to Cara. 

“I know the value of having someone at that critical juncture can provide,” she said.

Lillian, Cara’s mentee was more hesitant to enter into another mentor match, as Cara is her third mentor. Inconsistent relationships made Lillian nervous to delve into our program. Yet, after being matched for over a year, Lillian reports the match is going pleasantly well. 

“Cara has taught me to give myself more credit, speak up for myself, and is a role model for what a healthy mentor relationship looks like.” 

Although Cara and Lillian don’t share the same disability, Cara notes that you can be a good mentor even if you don’t have a disability.  “Everyone has their own journey,” she said.  “and I am going along on part of it with you. I don’t know exactly what you are going through but I can try to understand.”

COVID-19 altered the way many mentor relationships look with interaction shifting online. Cara and Lillian did not want to lose the personal connection they nurtured over the past year and were very intentional about seeing each other in person. “I have not interacted with a lot of people during COVID,” Cara said.  “I have kept the circle very small.”  She and Lillian also practiced safe socializing as much as possible. They go on many walks, had dinner or coffee outside, and completed art projects and t-shirt painting on Lillian’s deck thus far. They also include weekly FaceTime calls as part of their relationship.

Career support and guidance is a huge part of their mentoring relationship as well. Lillian was accepted to High Point University in High Point, North Carolina. The school was her top choice and Lillian was accepted through early decision into the pre-law program. She hopes to be a disability advocacy lawyer. Cara’s career as Associate Director of Operations at the Broad Institute at MIT differs from Lillian’s choice, but Cara’s support and guidance about college and pointing out all of Lilian’s accomplishments have increased Lillian’s confidence in herself.

“I can do whatever I put my mind to,” she said. 

Mentoring has truly been life-changing for Lillian and Cara because they both understand what is needed to make the relationship successful. “You have to be consistent and compassionate,” Lillian said.  “Know the commitment. Know the part you play. It’s not just the mentor or the mentee. It takes work. But you never know what lovely person you might meet.”

This article was written by a PYD volunteer.