Mentors are valuable. They give that extra push, they encourage you. We all need guidance in addition to family members… I love that woman. She’s family.
Living in the house she grew up in located two blocks from the Southeast White House, 27-year-old Tiwiya Hughes is still actively involved in a mentoring relationship that began in 1997.
This relationship between Tiwiya and her mentor, Courtney Santonicola, found its genesis through the Southeast White House Volunteer Mentoring Program and has become a committed friendship over the past 14 years. Courtney started coming to the Little White House with the young adults’ ministry at The Falls Church and hit it off with Tiwiya, then ten years of age. A self-proclaimed “bad kid,” Tiwiya says that she was always a different sort of child. She describes her neighborhood surroundings as “not what she would have liked them to be.” Seeing areas that could become major stumbling blocks for her as she matured into a teenager, she recognized at an early age the need for a positive influence in her life.
To those who are just beginning their mentoring relationships, it might be of some comfort to know that Tiwiya remembers the beginning of her own relationship to be full of challenges. “The beginning was hard,” she says. “She saw a side of me that she shouldn’t have seen, but she hung in there with me.” It was not only the consistency that has aided the endurance of their relationship. Tiwiya praises Courtney for exposing her to a different community and world. Through connections on Capitol Hill, Courtney helped Tiwiya obtain an internship for a senator during her days at Anacostia High School. Courtney also played a role in Tiwiya getting her current position at the State Department. Tiwiya says that “Courtney pushed me to stay on top of my grades in school.” This encouragement has helped her as she takes classes at University of the District of Columbia and works towards a degree in political science.
Besides work and school, Tiwiya credits Courtney for teaching her about money management through her thrifty ways and she is now a boastful bargain shopper. In addition, Tiwiya says that she is more apt to take informed risks in life, as demonstrated through her willingness to grow in experiences – especially when it comes to food.
Tiwiya still travels out to Vienna to meet with Courtney weekly. “Mentors are valuable. They give that extra push, they encourage you. We all need guidance [in addition to] family members,” Tiwiya says. Repeatedly, with a big smile on her face, she claims, “I love that woman, she is family.”