From mentee to mentor

[lightbox link=”” thumb=”×300.jpg” width=”200″ align=”left” title=”DSC_0711″ frame=”true” icon=”image” caption=”Photo by Joel Irwin.”]At 14, few people have the presence of mind or emotional maturity to handle the pressures of a professional job. Most are too busy with Instagram and YouTube to think about employment. But even at 14, there was something special about CIRI shareholder Caitlin Stewman of Anchorage.

When she joined the Responsible Adolescents in Successful Employment (RAISE) program at Southcentral Foundation (SCF), Caitlin made an impression on everyone around her. “The level and quality of work she did as an intern was comparable to what you’d expect from full-time staff,” says CIRI shareholder Tammy Ashley, SCF administrative coordinator for Executive and Tribal Services. “Her accountability is amazing, she’s dependable and flexible – no matter what you throw at her, she’ll learn it and get it done.”

Caitlin, now 20 and a full-time SCF employee, values her time with RAISE for giving her an opportunity to contribute to the Alaska Native community. “That’s the biggest portion of my life–my Native community,” she says. “I don’t think I would be who I am today without it.”

But she also saw RAISE as a way to equip herself for the future. Since 1997, SCF has helped 14- to 19-year-old Alaska Native and American Indian young people develop leadership skills by providing them opportunities to gain on-the-job work experience in the context of Alaska Native values.

“Some places wouldn’t give someone so young this chance,” Caitlin says. “RAISE definitely helped me keep myself focused in school and helped me build different work skills I don’t think I would have learned working somewhere like a movie theater.”

Caitlin came to RAISE already equipped with a broad knowledge of SCF. With both parents and her grandmother working at SCF, she considered most of the foundation’s employees a second family. Watching older kids do community work through the RAISE program, Caitlin quickly developed an interest in health education and started her RAISE experience promoting healthy eating and living.

Later, she moved into public relations and helped organize special events. But it was when she stepped into a role that would have been overwhelming for most young people that she truly impressed SCF leaders with her poise and her planning skills.

“When I left my position, Caitlin took over for me as an intern, coordinating more than 160 vendors for the annual SCF Gathering,” Tammy recounts. “It ended up being one of the largest gatherings in ten years. And it didn’t phase her. She’s so organized, it makes everyone else’s work easier.”

Caitlin easily transitioned from intern to full- time employee, and today works in SCF’s tribal relations department. She also participates in the Princess Warriors Dance Group and attends the University of Alaska Anchorage, where she’s earning a degree in hospitality and restaurant management. She hopes to one day own a restaurant.

“Tammy has been my biggest mentor at SCF,” Caitlin says. “We’ve built a really great working relationship. I know that I have so many people here I can go to for support, who will still help and guide me.”

While she may still rely on trusted advisors, Caitlin has already stepped into the role of mentor herself: Still involved with RAISE, she now acts as adviser to two young ladies who are putting together the annual RAISE yearbook – a job Caitlin tackled when she was an intern.

“It’s neat to watch because she’s gone through the program, and now she’s the mentor,” shares Tammy. “To see her take over where I left off, it’s really extraordinary.”