A mentoring story: Brenda and Paula, together for life

When Brenda Maldonado, then a fourth-grader, arrived in Sonoma as “the new kid in class” at Sassarini Elementary School, she was shy, a little unsure of herself and ready to reach out for someone who would help her, even if she didn’t completely understand why.

The Maldonados had moved here from Modesto to be closer to extended family and two of her cousins had filled her in – they had mentors who were “really cool.” Brenda told her mom she wanted a mentor, too, and they filed an application.

Paula Burkhart had returned to Sonoma after an extended stint in academic management at the University of Oregon, and was working part time again at UC Berkeley before deciding to retire and work on her wish list. “I always wanted to have a relationship like mentoring and to volunteer at a high school,” she recalled, “so I treated myself to both those activities.”

The Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance matched the pair. It turned out to be quite perfect that Paula’s family had moved when she was in third grade and she still remembered how hard it was. “I could relate to what Brenda was feeling,” Paula explained.

The first day they met at the Sassarini Mentor Center, Brenda was “kind of scared but kind of excited” until Paula suggested they work on an art project together. Then, any awkwardness evaporated. “We just kind of connected right away,” Paula said.

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