Mentors at Little Lights often expose our students to activities and fun outings in the DC community. Joyce has been mentoring Mariah for about 8 months and they recently had the chance to visit the Kennedy Center together. This was Mariah’s first experience with musical theater and she couldn’t get enough of West Side Story!

“As we walked back to my car, she was giddy and jumping with happiness. And on the car ride home, she sang the song “Maria”, but instead replacing her name in the title.” – Joyce

Mariah, a 5th grader who lives in Potomac Gardens, gained access to the world of art thanks to a very special friendship.

We had the chance to speak with Joyce, Mariah’s mentor, about their time at the Kennedy Center and how their relationship has evolved over time.

“I love musicals and I went to my first one when I was in elementary school, around Mariah’s age,” Joyce said, “Since then, it’s been an important part of my life and my love for music. I specifically chose this production because I knew the cast was going to be diverse. I honestly wasn’t sure how she was going to react to it, but I wanted to at least expose her to it and share a part of myself with her in this way.” Joyce has a strong passion for the arts and jumped at the opportunity to take Mariah on an adventure.

Exposing at-risk youth to creative avenues has been shown to cultivate problem-solving and creative skills. “Research even suggests that the arts can have a positive impact on youth development, from birth through adolescence. For example, Menzer (2015) found that engaging in various arts activities (such as singing, dancing, play-acting, and doing crafts) at a young age is associated with positive social and emotional behaviors, including empathy, sharing, and mood control.” 1

“Earlier this month, we stopped by the Portrait Gallery to see Michelle Obama’s portrait, and as I was driving her home, [Mariah] remarked how close Chinatown was, and yet how she never comes,” said Joyce, “The depth of her comment gave me pause, and reminded me how I take for granted that I live and work and easily access different parts of the city, and that isn’t the norm for everyone.”

The opportunity to see West Side Story was one that Mariah will tuck away in her memory book. Her favorite character was Tony and, much to her surprise, she had the chance to meet him personally following the performance. “After we met him, she was literally skipping and beaming while we were walking to my car, and she sang his song (Maria, or her version Mariah) the whole way home,” Joyce expressed.

When not catching a musical production, Mariah and Joyce typically spend their one-on-one time sharing a meal together or grabbing dessert. That’s what mentorship is all about. Doing life together is so simple but makes all the difference when it comes to building authentic relationships. Both parties are transformed by each interaction and connect in ways that enhance their lives.

“Mariah is lovable, funny, and open, and she has the best laugh. But most importantly, she’s special because she is a precious child of God, and that’s how she sees herself. My hope for her is that she knows she is loved and adored by her Father and Creator. I hope she doesn’t limit herself or allow others to limit her, and that our relationship will continue to grow and develop as time goes on,” says Joyce.

1 Arts-Based Programs and Arts Therapies for At-Risk, Justice-Involved, and Traumatized Youths (May 2016) Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention