EPIP LA | Mentor Program Reflections

While Talitha James didn’t have any set expectations when she applied for the EPIP Mentoring program in Los Angeles, she had already heard enthusiastic recommendations about it.

“…[I] knew that whoever I was matched with could add value to my professional career path,” Talitha shared. 

And for our cohort of 2016, the feeling was mutual. 

None of us were entirely sure what to expect. We all hoped we might spark a connection, build a relationship, and glean a nugget or two professional insight.

Some of us did have initial requests of identity dynamics we hoped our mentors might share with us. For instance, matching gender identity – while not a requirement – seemed to be a preference for many of our relationships. Our cohortmate Kevin Duong at the Durfee Foundation was matched with Jeffrey Kim at California Wellness. Kevin was especially grateful that his mentor introduced him to other male colleagues in philanthropy since he did not often meet a lot of men in the non-profit sector. Kaya Tith at First Five LA also requested a female mentor and was paired with her choice of Way-Ting Chen, Partner & Co-Founder at Blue Garnet. “I wanted a woman mentor that was a leader in the nonprofit sector and exhibited humility, compassion, and passion in her work,” Kaya shared. She’s been delighted with her mentorship experience since.

For some of our cohort, our mentors being people of color was also a helpful shared dynamic. For navigating a space that is predominantly white as well as one of privilege, having a mentor of color who understood the nuances of navigating that space was appreciated by our members. All around, being matched with mentors who reflected aspects of our own identities created an empowering experience of community building and offered us role models for our own career paths.

As a whole, our cohort definitely skewed younger on the spectrum with all of us under the age of 35. Moreover, we were also generally new to philanthropy. Meeting with our mentors was a tantalizing opportunity to gain insight to what this career trajectory meant for years down the road. We wanted to “articulate our professional goals” and “develop a sound trajectory.” We got so much more.

We found that all of our mentors shared a keen ability to be adept active listeners. Must have been related to why they were such respected leaders! Talitha was pleasantly surprised to find that her EPIP mentor, Amelia Williamson at AW Consulting, had a deft “ability to offer clear solutions to the challenges that we discussed.” At the start of our program, Talitha was in the unique position of job searching. During a later cohort meeting, she shared that Amelia had been pivotal in coaching her through selecting the best job offer for herself and negotiating through the hiring process. Talitha now works at Centinela Youth Services as a restorative justice program specialist.

Self-advocacy was perhaps the most frequently addressed topics among the mentoring pairs. Julianne Steger at the Annenberg Foundation was matched with Rachel Levin at Fundamental, Inc. Julianne said, “Rachel helped me find a strong voice to advocate for myself in the workplace when it comes to job duties, promotions, and raises.” Talitha echoed Julianne’s statement, reflecting, “I’ve had major growth in my ability to communicate effectively in professional settings where previously I was afraid to speak up.” Angela Sanchez at the ECMC Foundation asked her mentor, Nike Irvin at the California Community Foundation, how to request more responsibility as a young professional. Nike observed that while this is a delicate topic to broach, she encouraged Angela to “find the areas of your work that tickle you most.” 

Across the board, we were thrilled to be paired with senior professionals in our field. Their knowledge, insight, and advice all contributed to our collective cache of workplace wisdom, if not personal development as well. However, this did present one drawback. Because our mentors were all recognized leaders in philanthropy, they were also all incredibly busy individuals. A common challenge we faced in addition to scheduling – and occasionally, rescheduling – meetings with our mentors was optimizing the productivity of that time. As a cohort, we helped each other brainstorm ways to address this shared challenge. When Kevin felt his meetings with his mentor was more conversational and informal. To make the meetings more productive, our cohort collectively suggested that Kevin determine an objective with his mentor at the beginning so that it can help guide the interactions. 

While we could probably compile a mile-long list of our gold nuggets, we can share a couple here. One of Kaya’s takeaways from Way-Ting was learning “to develop internal ‘red flags’ when I’m faced with a challenging situation. To recognize the trigger and understand it means it’s time to take a step back and assess what is really happening.” On another note, Angela appreciated Nike’s candid response to work-life balance. Understanding when to step back for personal health was important. In order to give time to others, Nike said, you have to give time to yourself first. “I hope I can continue building a personal board of directors – coaches, mentors, and friends – who will hold me accountable to that self-care,” Angela said. 

Our final thoughts on the EPIP mentoring program? Kevin stated that the EPIP Mentor program “gave me the confidence as a professional to take higher risks and bigger leaps.” Julianne felt that EPIP helped her feel more integrated into the fabric of her new Los Angeles community. “This past year has been a great one because I feel as though I have really started to understand LA and the local nonprofit scene.  Being very new to Los Angeles, EPIP and this mentorship program has helped expand my network and overall experience of the city,” Julianne said.

We were all grateful to have this experience that EPIP afforded us in building relationships across the philanthropic community. We certainly hope to keep in touch with our mentors as well as each other, our team that supported each other through the year.