Alma Sisco-Smith, Mentor Program Lead, Global Ambassador Program, North County African American Women’s Association
In 2007, Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote, “Mindfulness opens us up to the possibility of appreciating the fullness of our humanity in our way of being and in our actions. Mindlessness, on the other hand, de facto, closes us up and sadly constraints both the expression and the enjoyment of our life as it is unfolding.”
In 2020, when the Global Ambassador Mentoring Program, sponsored by the North County African American Women’s Association (NCAAWA), expanded to high school girls of color, the teachings of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his ideals were more prominent than ever in our organization.
The Global Ambassador Mentoring Program was the next step of the organization’s dream in supporting young women after the current 8th grade program the organization ran. The leadership development program launched for high school aged youth on March 11, 2020. The weekend prior to starting however, the organization received notice the schools would close due to COVID-19.
As an organization, NCAAWA was able to utilize online web platforms to continue to support the development of mindfulness programming. Throughout the mentoring program that continued, we decided to switch our focus to building our resilience jointly, in hopes of bringing some joy in this difficult time.
Although being virtual came with its own set of problems, virtual engagement also came with opportunities and those are what we focused on using the principles of mindfulness. A research study from Stanford and Florida State University showed that high stress levels lead to negative outcomes, but that unaddressed high stress levels are more associated with negative outcomes.
Through virtual engagement, NCAAWA was able to increase the opportunities in the program and even widened outreach to girls at multiple schools instead of just one. To incorporate mindfulness, every virtual session that was conducted with affirming a mindfulness space and most sessions also ended with affirming a mindful space to carry us all forward.
It was not long into the summer program before slight changes and the needs for a few girls began to surface, mostly as a shyness and/or reluctance to being seen on screen. NCAAWA began by taking away the added pressure of being on screen by using mindfulness exercises to meet the girls where they are to continue to accommodate mentees.
These positive approaches to stress and practicing mindfulness, helped mentees and mentors navigate the pandemic with 91.2% of mentees completing the first term of the program. Three of the seniors even graduated and went off to college, all with scholarships. By practicing mindfulness, and incorporating these into our meetings, they were able to be successful and deal with COVID-19 and the pandemic.