More than mentoring: Forming a lasting friendship


By John Bayles

Chelsea Scott knew what she wanted but didn’t how to get it. She had volunteered before, delivering food to the elderly, but she was looking for more interaction. Three years ago she found that and more when she signed up to be a mentor with the Lower Eastside Girls Club.

“I had read an article about something they were doing,” said Scott. “I went to a women’s college, and I loved the idea of teaching these young women life skills and how to be of the world rather than just in it.”

When Scott, who works at the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, found out about the Lower Eastside Girls Club’s Museum Club, it was a “no-brainer” and she signed up to take a young girl from the Congo named Justine to a museum for the first time. Three years later, Justine is now 16 years old and the two of them are as close as sisters.

“I think she’s someone I will stay in touch with for a long, long time,” said Scott.

Justine’s parents fled the Congo as refugees when she was 6 and immigrated to New York to establish a home while Justine and her four older siblings stayed behind in South Africa. Before they could make it over, though, Justine’s father died.

“The Girls Club is, for most of the girls, all about having an adult who is solely focused on them,” said Scott. “It’s about having someone outside of your family you can turn to for advice.”

Scott said she knows what it’s like to grow up in a large family. While she maintains that her childhood was for the most part trauma free, she said she does remember feeling left out on occasion.

“I’ve been forgotten, like at a dance class before, when I was standing outside calling my mom from the pay phone,” said Scott.

Scott also said the Girls Club is different because it’s not an academic-based mentoring program and because it’s “realistic.”

“We definitely emphasize doing well in school,” said Scott. “But, we’re teaching them about life — how to be a good leader. We’re not going to train you to go to Harvard; we’re going to teach to be a leader wherever you are.”

Scott said she’s gotten everything she expected from the experience, and more. Scott’s relationship with Justine has blossomed into daily e-mails and phone calls. Currently, Scott is guiding Justine through the college application process.

The program’s goal is to use the museum trips as a vehicle to explore different neighborhoods. Scott saw its effects when she took Justine to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the first time.

“She looked around and said, ‘This is so different. I’ve never been up here before,’” recalled Scott.

Scott said it might “seem silly” that a girl who lives only a train ride away, would have never been to the Upper East Side. But, with a single mom who works all the time, upon second thought, it’s very understandable. Over the last three years the two have traveled to museums or galleries from Brooklyn to Chelsea, and lately, Scott has noticed her commitment to the relationship extending beyond the mandatory once-a-month art excursions.

“It began with the museums one Saturday a month. Then all of a sudden, Justine is reading her poetry at the Girls Club, so you got to see that. Or the girls have put out a book and there’s a party and you go to that,” said Scott. “It’s like hanging out with your friends, only they are 16.”

Scott’s most pleasurable moments, though, come when the mentor relationship is turned on its head and it’s Justine who is teaching Scott. Justine recently traveled with the Girls Club to San Francisco for an event where she met the playwright and activist Eve Ensler. The “Vagina Monologues” author invited the group to New Orleans last year for her annual V-Day conference, a celebration of all things women.

“I didn’t know anything about that,” said Scott. “Sometimes, she teaches me.”