Meant to be: A mentoring success story
Mentor Laura Van Waardenburg with her mentee Ahtziri Fonseca in 2010 …
Eleven years ago, Laura Van Waardenburg was a flight attendant with some free time on her hands and Ahtziri Fonseca was a first grader who dreamed of going to college. El Verano Principal Maite Iturri, who was at that time Fonseca’s reading teacher, saw great academic potential in the girl and felt she’d benefit from the Stand By Me mentoring program.
Fast forward a decade later and 18-year-old Fonseca is loving her freshman year at Pomona College and Van Waardenburg was so inspired by her mentoring experience that she is now a licensed therapist and social worker specializing in at-risk girls.
“Ahtziri truly inspired me. I went back to school and finished my bachelor’s degree and received my master’s. Our relationship gave me the confidence to change my own life … while my journey reinforced her idea of what she wants to accomplish and was capable of doing.” Van Waardenburg’s clients today are the same age that Fonseca was when they first met.
Van Waardenburg said that, from a very young age, Fonseca talked about college. In the early years, they would meet at school, chat, do crafts and go out to lunch, but even in elementary school her mentee was always very serious about school and wanting to talk about her dream of being a doctor.
Fonseca’s parents came to the United States from Mexico in the early 1990s, ending up in Sonoma Valley. She was their first child, followed by her brother, Luis, and her sister, Noemi. She attended Flowery Elementary School, and 13 years ago she was part of the first class of dual-immersion students in what was then an experimental program.
Fonseca attended Adele Harrison Middle School, but when it came time for high school, Van Waardenburg helped arrange for her to receive a full scholarship to attend Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa. She was looking for a challenge and said about that decision, “Sonoma Academy prepared me really well for college and made my transition to college much easier because I learned how to start over socially. I had a lot of things going on, whether it was with leadership positions, clubs, or extracurricular activities, and I learned how to balance my time, a crucial skill in college.”
In high school, she worked on the Nuestra Voz Radio Show on KSVY on Saturday mornings, heading up a show aimed at teenagers.
Fonseca was the first Latina senior class president at Sonoma Academy. She applied to 14 colleges and was accepted by all but two. At the end of her senior year, she traveled to Miami as one of three finalists competing for the yearly $50,000 Univision/JC Penney scholarship and received the top award. She ended up choosing Claremont’s Pomona College, where she’ll major in its acclaimed four-year neuroscience program.
About Pomona, Fonseca said, “The biggest surprise for me here has been the variety of different cultures I’ve been exposed to. I love listening to different languages walking down the hall, eating different foods, and trying to pick up words here and there.” She experiences the occasional feelings of homesickness and nostalgia but said there isn’t much time for that with how busy she is at school. She calls home as often as she can and uses new media to stay in touch with friends from home.
Fonseca credits Van Waardenburg with a great deal of her success to date, “I can’t count the times she’s helped me through my teenage angst, transitional phases, and now with college. We hit it off right away and I looked up to Laura from the beginning. One of my fondest memories is sitting in restaurants hearing her stories of traveling around the world. Laura’s support was crucial to my development into who I am today and how far I’ve come. She always believed that I could do bigger and greater things and it’s that faith in me that helped me to get over the rough patches. She taught me everything, from how to place a napkin on my lap to studying for the SAT.”
Fonseca has enthusiastic advice for other children embarking on the mentoring experience. “My advice would be to appreciate the relationship and realize that there’s someone out there who wants to be a part of your life and you just need to allow them in. Take their advice, they offer a lens that might allow you to see things differently. It is a two-way street, you have as much to offer your mentor as he or she does to you, and that makes for a stronger relationship between the both of you.”
Fonseca is living in the moment but always with an eye to the future. After college, she plans to attend medical school. She wants to live in as many places as she can, and said that the East Coast is next on her radar. Van Waardenburg continues to have total faith in her potential. When asked if she would take on another mentor now, Van Waardenburg replied, “I’m not done with Ahtziri yet!” She said she is enjoying embarking on each new chapter of her life with Fonseca.
For more information about Sonoma's Stand By Me Mentoring Alliance visit www.sonomamentoring.org.