• Ashley Ward

The Power of a Mentor


I’m fortunate to have had influential role models and mentors throughout my life. The relationships with each brought something different and served a purpose. There are many similarities in the values and characteristics this motley crew of mentors possessed and each left a distinct mark based on how we were connected, my age and station in life, their role and how they went about teaching and influencing me.


Family members were my earliest role models. I learned about the importance of compassion, doing for others and understanding all sides of an issue from my father. When I was young, we were kindred spirits. As I grew into adulthood and moved away, our relationship became more complicated. When he passed away suddenly, I was at peace knowing the last words I spoke to him were “I love you.” My father’s gentle nature and tender heart made a mark on me from the beginning. I learned what it looks like to care for a family from my mother. She also taught me the importance of doing what needs to be done when the going gets tough. When I was in high school, she returned to her teaching career after staying home to raise me and my sister. This involved going back to school to get her ESL certification and she still tells stories of her students and how they influenced her worldview in profound ways. During this time she bravely fought, and won, a battle with breast cancer. Our entire family became stronger and more courageous because of my mother’s resolve and tenacity.


My sister is older by five years, which means I grew up wanting to walk in her shadow. She paved the way for me, always first to do everything. She taught me what it means to work hard and pursue goals with focus and determination. A natural leader, she showed me how to step up and lead with grace. She was a swimmer, so I followed suit. In high school, she was a rower and a class officer so naturally, I had to do the same. My sister’s modeling of self-confidence, assertiveness, loyalty and perseverance has impacted who I am today.

My grandmothers were very different yet both were strong, independent and progressive women from the south where they grew up and raised their families. Both had careers outside of the home and large families. They were profound role models. I always knew I wanted to pursue a career, in addition to having a family, because of the example they set.

A few teachers stand out because of the mark they made on me. In elementary school, I had a beloved teacher for 2 years in a row. I sought her attention and she gave it; I went above and beyond in assignments and volunteered to do anything she requested of her class because I wanted to be in her presence. Mrs. Jones made me feel special. My junior year English teacher was brutally honest and critical about my writing. As much as it stung, I learned from her feedback and started to understand how to accept and respond to constructive criticism. In senior year, my AP Biology teacher captivated my attention and he knew how to make learning fun.


In graduate school, I encountered amazing mentors through my internships. I worked with two women who founded a small nonprofit that provided after school care and social services to students and families in need. I learned so much about life and leadership by witnessing their determination to live out their purpose. In another internship, I was mentored by passionate community advocates who continue to fight for the causes they believe in wholeheartedly to this day. These experiences ignited a fire inside of me to find an organization where I could engage in community work with equal fervor.


When I landed at Charmm’d, I knew I had found my nonprofit home where I would be encouraged, developed and challenged while doing impactful work with community leaders who make a difference every day. I have the privilege of working with a team who is caring, committed and accountable. We support each other to bring our best selves to all facets of our lives and we serve as role models to one another. Every day I am mentored by the community leaders we serve and they are the most amazing role models who live out their values of courage, vulnerability, passion, ingenuity, determination, compassion…the list could go on for miles.


Mentors and role models can have a tremendous influence on our growth and are part of our stories that tell who we are and who we are becoming.


A big thanks to all who have been and are currently people in my life who I consider mentors and role models. I am forever grateful for the mark you’ve left on me!


Reflect on the important people in your life and the impact they’ve had on you. Then, think about the times you have been a mentor or role model to others. Consider the lessons you have shared along the way and how your experiences and wisdom have influenced others.

· Who have been the key mentors and role models in your life and why?

· How do they build relationships and show others they care?

· How do they show vulnerability and ask for help?

· How do they continue to learn and grow?

· When have you been a mentor or role model?

· What was important about those relationships to you?

· What values and beliefs did you strive to model and teach?

· What did you learn from the experience?

· How do you celebrate the unique contributions you make in the world?