Patty Alper has been a mentor for many years. She is the author of Teach to Work. It is always nice to talk with someone who understands the value of mentorship. Here is what Patty has to say...
Who is Patty Alper?
As with all of us, I am a compilation of all my past experiences. Whew…always amazing to look back! Who knew….I’ve included below only the most relevant biographical history as relates to my book, Teach to Work, How a Mentor, a Mentee and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America—include:
Youth Work-It’s hard to imagine, but I’ve actually spent twenty years working with adolescents---first in Iowa’s Detention Center system with incarcerated youth, then in a Psychiatric Hospital with psychotic adolescents in my home state of Maryland. You see, early on in my twenties I thought this was a career path for me. But, I pivoted toward business, after learning psychology and emotional problems was not for me 40 hours a week. So I strategically weaved my way toward business….(see Entrepreneurship below) and have remained in the business sector for 30 years. As life comes full circle—I, too, came back to working with youth—but in a skills- based mentoring capacity. Please read on…..
Entrepreneurship—After gradated experiences in marketing and sales,( Public Relations for Hyatt, Radio Sales for NBC) my first husband pleaded with me to start a construction business with him when I was 29 years old. Yes, I had communication skills but this was quite daunting as I had to learn a whole new industry. We were at the dawn of automation, and the concept was to be the most professional, detailed, and fully automated commercial interior project company---in the mid atlantic region. I spent 3 months learning the language of real estate, the primary targets, and their procurement needs. As a matter of fact, I was one of the first women in the field in Washington DC. I loved it and it turned out I was pretty darned good at it. We grew to 100 management level employees in four short years and a high volume of developer and corporate clients to boot. Blood Sweat and Tears paid off.
Philanthropy—The last piece is giving back. I was fortunate to be part of a family foundation that began in 1998. This was also pivotal. I did a lot of soul searching to figure out what would be meaningful for me, and how could I be productive with the limited time and resources I had to give. I stumbled upon the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE ) a program that has a business curriculum, trains teachers to teach business, and works with Title 1 youth on how to write a business plan and launch a company. It was perfect for me. It combined my love of business, and helping youth too. I learned that I preferred teaching youth to be productive and self sufficient, over helping them with their emotional problems. Ultimately, I brought my marketing skills to this non profit, and helped design a mentoring program called Adopt A Class---where many more mentors could work with youth in an adjunct capacity. The program grew to be a national model—and much of the book is based on this experience.
Do I Mentor? Oh my gosh yes. I have been mentoring for 15 years. I love working with the youth and have learned, from over 1500 letters, that my time an input does have an impact. I have been so moved by the connections, by seeing students succeed, launch companies, go on to higher education, get married, stay in touch---they have been the inspiration for writing the book. I want to see many more professionals share their knowledge in what I have coined as “Project Based Mentoring”….What is that? It puts a real world, student- driven project at the center of a mentor relationship. While the mentor has vast experience in a project’s dimension and content, the student is the idea generator, the responsible party and the driver of the activity. As I see it, there’s no reason why accountants, atists, chefs, technologists, scientists, lawyers, management, retailers et al…can’t all become mentors—just like me.
How do you find the best fit for Mentoring Opportunities? I’m so glad you asked! The last 40 pages of my book are dedicated to this question. It is called-- The Mentor Resource Guide . I have done the research for you. There are many non profits or schools that are looking for mentors just like you. Consider the environment you prefer. The age range of the student. What skills in particular do you want to share. (I’m more bent toward skills sharing than emotional mentorship) Do you like working with groups or one on one. Explore the possibilities and start by a visit where you ask many questions. This is how I began with NFTE---My personal preference is to go to school with another Mentor. We meet students in the library or in an office-one by one to coach them. We’ve been a tag team for 15 years…and we have a ball doing it!
Describe Teach to Work, your book? Honestly, I’ve written this book to motivate mentors to step up. We are needed…..and now! There is a skills gap in America. Our kids are not getting jobs, are not prepared to enter the workforce, and need input from real world practitioners. I’ve seen too many youth succeed as a result of just listening, taking an interest and coaching them toward a few logical steps—filling in where they have no others and no role models of success.
I’ve also learned that mentors have a hesitancy, a caution, to take on this role. They have asked me questions like, What do I have to give? or How will I work with Kids? After research from historic, education, and psychological perspectives, I know that mentoring changes lives for both the mentor and the mentee, and the tradition is as old as time itself.
The book is very simply written spelling out Why, How and Where to Mentor. It is filled with true stories, best practices, and step by step guidance. My secret goal was to have this book be like a mentor’s bible that could be referred to chronologically throughout a mentor’s experience. Such as—First Day Jitters, or Meeting One to One, or Coaching a student project. It’s meant to be read, prior to doing an activity, and is easy to follow, as well as inspirational.
Lastly, it is written Mentor to Mentor. I wanted to pour my soul into the stories, and to share my relationships with youth who are from 14 – 30 years old---The message is simply, if I can, you can… And, please try—because America’s Kids Need us! And, by the way---you’ll takeway more than you can ever imagine.