Program aims to help keep talent in Central New York
By Darian Stevenson
Mentors serve as a source of knowledge and can help set goals and plans for the future. Now some of Syracuse’s own career professionals are setting aside time to serve as mentors to a group of Syracuse City School District students.
In collaboration with Believe in Syracuse, Say Yes Syracuse has taken the first steps in matching mentors and mentees for the new Greater Syracuse Career Mentoring Program. Recent Say Yes Scholars, who graduated in 2021 and started college this fall, were matched with local professionals for continued mentoring.
The college-educated mentors will assist Say Yes Scholars in cultivating networking and professional abilities while providing guidance and support throughout their college journey.
Meet some of the mentors and a mentee in the program below.
Ahmeed Turner, Say Yes executive director, grew up in Syracuse and attended city schools, including Nottingham High School. He went on to graduate from Cheyney University of Pennsylvania with a degree in psychology. He went on to earn master’s degrees in marriage and family therapy from Syracuse University and nonprofit administration from Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame. He has a background in counseling, violence prevention and therapy, as well as experience in community outreach and education. Prior to his current position with Say Yes, he served as a Say Yes program coordinator, site and scholarship director.
How will this program benefit Say Yes Scholars?
The mentorship program does two things: It gives students a chance to enhance their professional experience and it gives volunteers a chance to be civically engaged and enhance their own professional experiences. The overall vision for this program is able to foster this entire community of interconnectedness, so everyone can have a very rich base of networking and a base of knowledge to (connect to) opportunities.
Do you Say Yes students should consider career choices prior to college?
I personally feel, from a Say Yes perspective, that it is never too early to expose students to the workforce and careers. The degree that you major in doesn’t always correlate to your end job. Our hope is that a student can get connected to an opportunity within their major, but just because someone’s profession is, let’s say medicine, that doesn’t mean they don’t know of education opportunities outside of their medical field or other places.
Why are mentors important?
Folks that have mentorships, generally, earn higher incomes. They get promoted quicker. They master their skill set and responsibilities in whatever their profession is, and they are much more fluid across the organization that they’re working in socially. So, when you look at all those benefits in the learning curve for students that have mentors, as opposed to folks that do not, there’s really no caveat.
Did you have a mentor?
I’ve had a few mentors over my professional life. I have a mentor now in the president and CEO (of Say Yes), and I’ve had mentors that I really felt wanted the best for me. They were very good coaches. They weren’t just supervisors or bosses; I learned a lot from them.
Lara Mosby is a mentor for the Greater Syracuse Career Mentoring Program. She works as the community engagement manager for Symphoria, located in downtown Syracuse. She specializes in leading projects, managing teams and creating innovative solutions for clients and partners. Mosby is originally from Washington, D.C., where she spent most of her youth before graduating high school and pursing a degree in English at Cornell University. After undergrad, Mosby attended Syracuse University where she graduated with a master’s degree in Television, Radio and Film. She worked in radio for more than 20 years, including local stations Hit Country 108 WHEN-FM, which became Hot 107.9 WWHT, and Y94.
Why did you want to become a mentor?
Everybody says they want to give back, but I think a mentor can really be the difference in a career or life. Having a mentor can make someone feel valued outside their family unit. A mentor can provide advice for the real world, whether it’s for a specific job or industry — or just life advice in general. Like how to look for an apartment, how to write a resume, what to look for when you’re shopping for a new car, and, if you’re lucky, how to decide between two or more job offers. A lot of people can point to a specific person who has invested time, energy and support in helping them navigate their workplace or the world in general, and I wanted to help in that way.
Did you have mentors that impacted your life?
When I was in college, I worked for a publisher … she became more of a mentor like a second mom to me. She gave me a lot of advice and listened. She really took me under her wing — not as a mentor for publishing — but for life. (The relationship) was valuable to me because it gave me somebody outside my family who had experience, who could give me guidance and as someone who didn’t have a vested interest in my decision. Most often a mentor is someone to help give you a good direction.
How will you be there for your mentee?
To start by listening to her, because that’s important. This is about her; it’s not what I want. It’s about giving her information so she can make better informed decisions … choose the path that’s right for her. If she says she needs more information or is interested in something that I don’t know about, I can be there to connect her with people that do.
Do you have advice for other mentors?
Don’t be afraid of being a mentor. No matter what position you are in in life, there’s somebody who can benefit from where you’ve been and your experiences. So don’t be afraid to share them.
Jabiri Thomas, 18, is a mentee and a Say Yes Scholar. He grew up on Syracuse’s West Side, attended city schools and graduated from Nottingham High School in 2021. Thomas was heavily involved in sports growing up, participating in football, baseball, wrestling and track. Now he’s a freshman at Norfolk State University, pursuing a degree in business entrepreneurship. Thomas was paired with Mario Cabral, a financial advisor at Equitable Advisors, to help guide him through his college years.
How has Say Yes helped you?
(Say Yes) helped me prepare for college, look into colleges that matched with my interests and it kept me on a straight and narrow path that helped me to keep a mindset that I wanted to go to college and pursue a degree.
Why did you want a mentor from Syracuse?
Because I felt If I had someone in my corner who went to inner city schools, they could really help me because they understand where I’m coming from. [Syracuse] is where I want to reside, and I want to give back to the community I grew up in. So, having someone who is successful in the Syracuse area be my mentor was important to me.
What do you hope your mentor will help you accomplish?
I want to help people create and brand their businesses, because in Syracuse there are a lot of businesses that are underground or not well known. With my business entrepreneurship degree, I feel like I can help a lot of people in Syracuse start and grow their business. So, having Mario, who’s experienced in financing and investing, will help me learn and grow my career. He understands my ideas and what I want to do, and we have a great connection.
After this experience, could you one day see yourself as a mentor?
Coming from so many different schools, backgrounds and areas in Syracuse, I feel that I could make a difference in another kid’s life one day. I want people to know I came from Syracuse and that there are other routes outside of sports. I played a lot of sports, and I just realized that you can’t rely on sports your whole life. When you get into the real world, you have to understand that sports are temporary and having a plan for what you want to do with your life, whether it’s going to college and branching off from there or going straight into, is important.