Hannah Sullivan’s Story. She is 21.
As told to Corey Ohlenkamp
I will never forget the words, “Your mother told me that she didn’t think you would graduate high school, I mean, none of us really thought you would.”
Right before I started the sixth grade my father sat me down and explained that he was leaving. My oldest sister was leaving for college that fall. That just left my two youngest sisters, who were in elementary school, and myself.
Mom kept to her room because of the heartbreak and when she wasn’t doing that, she was working three jobs to keep us afloat. It left me to be the caretaker of my two youngest sisters. I was making sure they had dinner on the table, took baths, and did their homework all before bed. That experience taught me the importance of caring for others when they didn’t have anyone else. My mother did come back into the picture. She attempted to take care of me, but at that point I was already so independent.
I ran away from her household as a junior and moved in with my best friend. The last two years of my high school career were not easy and I made a lot of mistakes. I dated a drop out, and barely went to class my senior year. I almost didn’t graduate.
Thankfully, my older sister was at home and married by then, so she became my safe haven. I would go to her house at least twice a week. I cried to her about my life, and she gave me advice on how to do better.
She filled the mentorship role that I desperately needed, and it would be a while until I saw later how that would impact my future role as a mentor.
I had no idea what was in store for my life when I came to Ball State. My freshman year RA, Jen, saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. She pushed me to get involved on campus, knowing that I cared about others, so she guided me to put that quality to good use.
That’s how I found Project Leadership. This organization believes that by committing to a student for one hour a week, it provides them enough support to get them to college.
To be honest, it was a little strange. A couple months after barely graduating high school myself, I was mentoring someone else to now help her get to college. I promised myself after my interview with Julie, the group’s leader, that I would be the mentor that I never truly had. I wanted to be there for my mentee in any capacity that she would need.
With Sally, I try to be someone that I wanted when I was her age. Someone closer to my age would have made my life a little easier back then. Hopefully I’m making that difference for her now.
Sally and I are on our third year together. Project Leadership only asks people to commit to the students for one year, but I couldn’t imagine not being in her life, as her mentor. We have grown together. Sally has made me a better person in more ways than one. I look back to our first meeting, and I’m amazed at how far she has come.
This year Sally has put herself in to two AP classes, and she has an A in both of them. She was recently inducted into the National Honors Society. As her mentor and friend, I could not be more proud of her. She is succeeding in life, but when she fails, I am right there to help her back up. I fully believe that she is going to graduate from high school and college.
The thing about mentoring is that you never know how you can make a difference. I have no idea if I helped put the idea of taking AP classes into her mind. What I do know though is that I have been there for her when she’s needed it. That’s what makes a difference. I helped make that difference.
If I would have had a mentor similar to who I am to Sally, I don’t think I would have made as many mistakes back in high school. I don’t regret any of those past failures though because if it weren’t for them, I would not understand the necessity of having a mentor. I am grateful for where I come from, and what I have been through.
As a Resident Assistant and mentor, I am able to relate to every girl I talk to too. I tell Sally as well as my 48 residents that I am their “Fun Aunt.” I am able to listen to their problems and care for them just as if they were my actual blood.
Throughout my experiences as a mentor and RA, I think I know the path that I am supposed to go down. I fully believe that helping women go through struggles is what I am meant to do with my life. I hope the future entails going to graduate school for a career in student affairs. There I can make an impact on women every day.
That is me, a mentor. It only takes one person who cares, to make all the difference.
Corey Ohlenkamp is a 24-year-old writer and photographer with The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana. He is currently finishing a Masters degree in Journalism at Ball State University.
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The Facing Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that connects people through stories to strengthen communities. The organization’s model to share stories and raise awareness is in cities across the United States focused on topics such as poverty, sex trafficking, mental health, immigration, and more. Facing Project stories are compiled into books and on the web for a community resource, used to inspire art, photography, monologues and—most importantly—community-wide awareness, dialogue, action, and change toward a more understanding and empathetic society.
This story originally appeared in Mentoring in Muncie, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Delaware County in Muncie, Indiana.