By Rachel Humphreys
“When I think of Cindy, I think of a second mom. Mentoring had a huge impact on my life.”
Nicole was a shy and quiet 3rd grader at Burton Elementary, waiting for a mentor. Cindy was a member of Mars Hill Bible Church, involved in children’s ministry, and her oldest had just graduated high school when she heard about the need for mentors. Although she had never been a formal mentor before, she thought “That’s something I can do.”
Nicole and Cindy began meeting over the lunch hour. Nicole fondly remembers, “I’d be so excited every week. I’d get to miss class, meet with Cindy, play basketball, and eat McDonalds. I loved it.”
13 years later, Nicole and Cindy are back at Burton Elementary. Nicole smiles as they walk the halls, remembering various classrooms and teachers. Cindy looks up to Nicole, “I don’t remember you being this tall,” she teases. Cindy has journeyed alongside Nicole long past their formal mentoring days and has had the opportunity to see her grow into a strong, adventurous, and brave young woman. Even after Nicole transferred to another school district they remained close. “We committed to each other and built a good relationship,” explains Cindy. More than a decade later they still text, meet to catch up, and connect via social media.
Leaning over a table in the library, the pair laugh like old friends swapping photos – remembering squinty graduation poses, Steak ‘ Shake dates, prom dresses, and their first year of mentoring. “It was really nice to have her there. She was always there for me for a lot of milestones – basketball, graduation, birthdays, prom – just like another family member celebrating with me,” says Nicole.
Every birthday Cindy would take Nicole to Chuck E Cheese to celebrate and she attended as many of Nicole’s basketball and softball games as possible. Nicole was included in many of Cindy’s family events too, like school plays, church, and sport outings.
“Mentoring is not hard when you have someone like Nicole. However, you don’t necessarily see the effect of it and are unsure if you’re making any difference,” explains Cindy. Although she didn’t know it, Cindy helped shape Nicole’s future path.
“Cindy being my mentor definitely had a huge impact on me. She helped me get out of my shy phase and she helped me find my passion for aviation. I used to want to be a veterinarian, but one summer Cindy helped me get into Grand Valley State University’s STEPS (Science, Technology, Engineering, Preview Summer) Camp.”
“I love getting my hands dirty, using wrenches, and ratchets. After that STEPS Camp I fell in love with aviation and knew that’s what I wanted to do. I love to just put on my safety glasses and do my thing. It brings me so much joy. Some people my age are still trying to figure out what they want to do; I figured it out in 6th grade thanks to Cindy.”
Once she locked onto her dream, Nicole pursued it with a passion. She took two years of aviation maintenance at Kent County Technical Center (KCTC), earned her Associates Degree in Applied Science at Lansing Community College, and received additional certifications in specialty areas including: general, airframe and powerplant aviation. Listening to Nicole describe her school and excitement for her new job Cindy beams, “I am so proud of her. She’s increased her confidence and I won’t take credit for that. Her mom is so involved, works really hard, and sets a great example.”
Over the past decade Nicole has discovered her passion and strength. Choosing to work in a male-dominated field, she has found herself being the only female in the majority of her aviation classes. “I’m used to it. I’m not worried about handling them,” she laughs confidently. Keeping in line with her adventurous side, Nicole recently relocated to Illinois for a new job. “As an aircraft structural mechanic I’ll be working on commercial aircrafts for Boeing. I’m anxious, but ready to work and I know I’m going to love it,” she beams.
“Mentoring is such a great opportunity. Not all 3rd graders might think of it like that, but it’s definitely worth it for every student that has the opportunity to try,” says Nicole.