Mentorship: It’s all Greek to me
Spent Sunday morning at Odyssey Books for their annual “Local Authors’ Open House.” I was surrounded by the usual suspects: local historians, literate outdoors persons, and tarot dealers, all gently flogging their latest bound offerings. My own slim tome, “Coping in the Country,” still generates annual sales in the low double digits, so technically I qualified for admittance.
When I am not shut away here at Clear Creek Ranch, I enjoy meeting and greeting the public. On Sunday my authorial conversations revolved around two topics: how I manage to look worse in person than in my column photo, and who has influenced my writing style.
I don’t know whose influence shows. I read quite a bit as a child: James Thurber, E.B. White, Robert Benchley, that “Better Homes and Gardens” guy – Burton Hillis, Jack Smith and Jim Murray in the Los Angeles Times, Betty Bard MacDonald’s “The Egg & I,” Erma Bombeck, and Dagwood Bumstead among others. Vintage black-and-white TV sitcoms. Listened to comedians like George Carlin and Bob Newhart. Memorized Mad Magazine.
But I had no writing “mentor.” The mythologically inclined may find this an interesting coincidence, as I was in a bookstore named for the Trojan warrior Odysseus who left his young son Telemachus in the hands of a trusted adviser named … that’s right, Mentor.
Finding a willing real-life mentor can become an odyssey in itself. Mentors aren’t mythological creatures, although when I helped found a nonprofit group 15 years ago they might as well have been. And I needed all the guidance I could get.
Mentors were out there, I just didn’t know where to look. Then, a few years ago, several of the larger, better-run nonprofit groups (Hospice, the Land Trust, Music in the Mountains, the Hospital Foundation, and a few others) invited ALL local nonprofits (there are close to 400) to band together to promote the idea that local citizens consider modifying their wills to “leave a legacy” to local charitable groups.
The concept was a simple one, and I could thoroughly research the topic in half an hour of online Googling. But the real value to me as a board member, operating on-task with tunnel vision in semi-isolation, was the exposure to so many other folks who had, as the cliché goes, “been there and done that.”
After every meeting, I was energized. I always found that I’d picked up a valuable tip, or had my point of view validated usually by something said informally at the buffet table. I spend a great deal of time near the buffet table, ever since Clear Creek Ranch was declared a “pastry-free zone.”
Then last year everything moved up a level (except the pastries, which continue to accumulate near my waist). The same core group along with ringleader Gary Quehl organized a series of training workshops under the banner Center for Nonprofit Leadership of the Sierra Nevada (CNL).
CNL has no budget, no staff, no office, and no agenda – other than to draw on the voluntary expertise of its own membership (and the occasional guest speaker) to instruct, inspire, and enlighten nonprofit board members, especially new ones, on every aspect of their important work within the community.
This year’s kickoff session is on Sept. 16, and will be an overview of topics to be covered in-depth throughout the year. Surprisingly, only 10 percent of local nonprofits took advantage of this excellent LOCAL program last year.
And while there is no guaranteed appearance by Brad Pitt in a leather skirt, you never know with this group.
An odyssey with local mentors – maybe I should write a book about it.
Mike Drummond is a Nevada County writer. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His column appears every other Tuesday, alternating with Gina Gippner’s column, “Just Mom.”
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