Mentorship Matters

By Renee Frith

This summer, Bernheim is hosting seven participants from SummerWorks Louisville. SummerWorks’ mission is to help prepare and connect youth to summer jobs, career opportunities, and supportive networks. As a career partner, Bernheim helps fulfill the mission by creating a job description that outlines specific duties, goals, and expectations. For seven weeks (June 14 – July 29), these 7 participants will serve in the role of Nursery Technician. Their duties are to organize, inventory, and maintain our nursery plants, so that we can create a working catalogue and identify plants that can be used in fall planting projects, and/or sold at the Visitor Center. During orientation, we set and agreed upon expectations – that everyone would show up and try, be respectful and kind to each other, and be our authentic selves.

As their Supervisor, I did not want to fail them. I wanted to create an experience that followed Bernheim’s mission of connecting people with nature. Through communication and engagement in process, we have built a rapport. I too have brought my authentic self to work each day and in doing so, I have shown them that a leader is consistent in keeping a goal, but sometimes fallible in the approach. We had tremendous success thus far in organizing and cleaning up our once-disheveled nursery holding area, but we have also seen failures with irrigation breaks, excessive heat, and a supervisor (me) with a busy schedule. I knew going into this experience that I would be pulled away routinely for other projects, but when present, I needed to be engaged in the process. To accomplish this, I thought back to mentors in my past that were always present and participatory in my journey.

Sumerworks helping transplant and organize trees in the nursery at shade house.

Just showing up does not always make for a successful experience. Mentorship is the key component that makes a good experience great. Thinking back over my career in horticulture, the most meaningful mentors in my life started with open, honest conversations. Getting to know a co-worker’s true authentic self makes for a better working environment.

Sumerworks helping transplant and organize trees in the nursery at shade house.

Starting your first job can be stressful on so many levels. Your mind races with what to expect and what will be expected. You are so worried about making a mistake, or possibly not knowing enough. The fear of the unknown can be anxiety producing. An employer should weigh all these factors and create a welcoming and inclusive culture at all stages of employment. SummerWorks provides participants with a job coach that conducts one-on-one weekly meetings. As their Supervisor, I also conduct evaluations at the end of weeks 1 and 5. This high level of communication encourages and engages each participant to have a voice and platform from which to grow.

This summer, Bernheim has provided the natural environment as the supportive platform. SummerWork’s participants have embraced nature and are using this experience to prepare for their own futures. My hope if that one day, these participants will look back on the experience and use it as guidance for how best to mentor the next generation.

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