Cool in the eyes of a 5th grader – by Stephanie L

by MichelleR on January 9, 2012

in the eyes of a 5th grader

I became a mentor last fall through TeammatesTM, the mentoring program founded by former University of Nebraska football coach, Tom Osborne, and his wife Nancy. Since I have no children of my own, I see mentoring as a great opportunity to share
my life with someone while helping a young person who needs some extra support. All Teammates mentors attend a training session that covers what we can and cannot do as a mentor. The guidelines are simple — I meet with my mentee for one hour each week at her school over her lunch time for at least one school year (but preferably through
high school graduation).

My mentee is a fifth-grade girl named Taylor, and I have to admit I was a little nervous when I arrived at her
school for our first meeting. Would Taylor like me? Would she want to spend time with me? Could I be “cool” to a fifth grader? Yes, a lot of pressure.

I was met by a teacher who greeted me warmly, showed me around and handed me a binder of information, which
included a “contract” outlining my commitment, information about Taylor and a list of questions I could ask to start a conversation with her. Questions like:

What isyour favorite color? Do you have a pet?  What is your favorite food? REALLY?

These were all closed-ended questions! I couldn’t believe these were meant to help me build a real
relationship with Taylor. How am I going to get her to talk to me using closed-ended questions like these?

My experience with the Home Instead sales process and the Alzheimer’s Disease or Other Dementias CARE
Training Program proves that asking open-ended questions is an important element to building a real relationship. “I know how to do this,” I thought. “I can use the same skills I teach CAREGiversSM to build a connection with Taylor!” I quickly closed the binder and set it aside as Taylor entered the room. I started asking her open-ended questions and, before we knew it, our hour together was over. And we didn’t want to leave! The connection was made. I learned so much about Taylor in that one hour! As I left  the school that day, I wondered about the other mentors. Did they actually use the closed-ended questions in the binder in their meetings? How did their first visits go? Did they build a connection with their mentees early in the relationship? I’ve been asked on several occasions for a list of standardized questions to help CAREGivers build relationships with clients with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. My story about meeting Taylor is a great example of why we don’t. As we developed the CARE program, the one concept we held on to was the need to customize the training to meet the needs of each client. Providing a list of pre-selected questions jeopardizes the opportunity for relationship building, and that is why we do not offer one. But we also understand that some CAREGivers may need a little help getting started.

I am still working with Taylor once a week, and we have a great connection. And as I write this, the binder with the list of “suggested” questions is gathering dust on my shelf. Each time I meet with Taylor, I feel the bond growing stronger. I hope I am making a difference in her life. She sure has made a difference in mine. Oh, and by the way, I am cool to a fifth grader.



“All 4 Wine, LLC, d.b.a. as an independently owned and operated Home Instead Senior Care franchise”


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