Our volunteers are the best! Many have been volunteering for years, and all of them make a huge difference in the lives of their neighbors. One of those volunteers is Tony Paolo, a mentor in SHIM’s Youth Mentoring program.
Tony has been a mentor with SHIM’s Youth Mentoring program since November of 2016. He grew up in Bethel Park and now lives in Whitehall. Despite being a South Hills native, he didn’t find out about SHIM until he saw a SHIM billboard on Route 51 highlighting the increased food insecurity in the South Hills. He was surprised to learn that his neighbors were struggling and kept that in mind as he searched for volunteer opportunities.
Tony wanted to do something local where he could have an impact, so he decided to volunteer with teens. As a lawyer who works in juvenile law, he was inspired to improve the lives of teens outside of the judicial system.
“I can’t swing a hammer, I don’t have a family foundation, but I do have time.”
Tony remembers how he felt as a teen, and how empowered he was by his mentors. Whether it was a teacher, a family friend, or even his sister’s high school boyfriend, these mentors helped build his confidence.
Tony was especially drawn to SHIM’s Youth Mentoring program because it serves kids from foreign-born families. Tony’s family emigrated to Whitehall from Italy. Watching his grandparents’ home movies from the 1950s and 1960s highlighted the growth in his neighborhood. Now, as more immigrant and refugee families settle into his neighborhood, he likes seeing that Whitehall continues to be a welcoming and growing community.
Now in his sixth year of mentoring, Tony meets weekly with a group of high school boys to help build their confidence and fuel their success. He was uncertain he could be a valuable mentor, but he quickly realized that he could make an impact on their perspectives while guiding them through challenging life lessons. Tony was a shy teenager and understands the importance of building confidence and self-esteem. His favorite thing about being a mentor is watching teens find themselves over the course of each school year. “You see a flash of who they’ll become, and then you see their growth into themselves,” Tony recalls.
There are challenges to mentoring. Sometimes Tony plans activities that he’s excited about, but the teens don’t seem as engaged as he’d hoped. Later in the year they’ll reference something from the activity, and he’ll realize that they had gained something from the experience. One of Tony’s favorite activities with the teens was a moot court competition where he used his expertise as a lawyer to teach them about the different aspects of arguing cases. The teens joked with Tony about knowing everything since he’s a lawyer, but he reminds them that knowledge is always attainable through hard work.
Tony realizes that the teens wear different hats, as students, sons, brothers, and part time employees. SHIM’s Youth Mentoring offers them a two-hour break of being who they’re supposed to be and gives them space to get to know themselves. Tony proudly says, “Teens leave the program feeling more comfortable in their own skin.”