December 30, 2021
CEC Austin’s Chad Kimbell and Mario Castillo are involved with the Seedling Mentor Program. Seedling’s mission is to mitigate “the impact of parental incarceration on children in Central Texas through school-based mentoring.” Chad got involved with Seedling 15 years ago after they presented at his workplace. He had considered volunteering for a while. “It was time for me to stop talking about doing something. It was sitting right in my lap, so I decided to do it,” says Chad.
More recently, after Mario heard Chad mention Seedling around the office, he also decided to get involved. Signing up for Seedling was kind of a full circle moment for Mario. He was mentored as a child in elementary school. “I was one of those kids that would always get in trouble,” says Mario. “I had a mentor for about six months or so when I was in elementary school, and I saw the impact that had.” Additionally, one of the communities Seedling focuses on is the same community where Mario grew up. “I grew up knowing a lot of the situations these kids were in. It’s rough,” says Mario.
When Chad told him about Seedling, Mario says he was “all about it.” He previously participated in mentorship programs in both high school and college, too. Mario has now been involved with Seedling for nearly two years.
When a mentor starts with Seedling, they are matched with an elementary school student. Each week, the mentor will spend an hour with the child around lunchtime doing whatever the child wants to do. “It depends on what the kids are interested in,” says Chad. Sometimes they will play basketball or a board game, sometimes they’ll just talk and eat, and, with the student Mario is currently with, “all we do is color.”
According to Chad and Mario, it’s less about asking the child personal questions to get them to open up and more about just showing up and trying to be a good role model. “For the most part, you’re just trying to be there and get to know them and be a consistent presence,” says Chad. Mario agrees, “One of the main things is consistency.”
Seedling tries to keep mentors with the same child from elementary school until they graduate high school. However, according to Chad, this can be a difficult task. Because these mentees are primarily from low-income families, it can sometimes be tough to live near Austin, a city commonly ranked as one of the top 25 richest cities in America. “I’ve had to go follow kids 30 miles away from the city at times, but you kind of feel a bond there; you feel like you’ve got to follow them as best as you can,” says Chad. “The kids have no control of where they’re going to school next week, much less next year.” Chad has mentored four different students over his 15 years with Seedling, while Mario has mentored the same child during his short time with the organization.
According to Chad, the Seedling mentor program is severely undermanned. “It’s pretty shocking,” says Chad. “They probably need three times the amount of mentors that they have.” At the school they visit, there are around 10-15 students who qualify for a mentor but don’t have one, says Chad. Cristina Cordoba, also from CEC Austin, recently completed the training and orientation process and is now just waiting to get matched with a student. But Mario and Chad both agree it would be great to get even more people involved within their Austin office and beyond. To volunteer and learn more about the Seedling Mentor Program, click here.