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What it means to mentor

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Don Sebastiani is unabashedly, and unashamedly, a rich guy, although you’d never know it if you ran into him most mornings at Sonoma Market, standing there in his walking shorts and a white visor, studying the New York Times before morning mass at St. Francis Solano Church.

You also wouldn’t know that, for years, he had a semi-secret life mentoring a pod of teenage boys in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, hanging out in a burrito joint with two-to-five guys, letting them drive his Jeep around a vacant lot, taking them to Giants and Warriors games, being a friend, a guide and a vision of possibilities.

In the time between raising his own children and becoming a grandparent to theirs, the elder Sebastiani still had a lot of fathering left in him that needed an outlet.

So he found it mentoring other people’s kids, first through an organization called Up2Us, in San Francisco, and now through the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance.

What he has learned from the experience is that, while mentees clearly get a lot out of the relationship, and years of data confirm the extraordinary impact mentoring has in the lives of at-risk kids, it is at least as rewarding for the mentors.

“At first I thought I was going in as a leader, a crusader,” he reports, “but then I came away from it realizing, I got more out of it than they did. They taught me too.”

Sebastiani insists, “I’m never going to be on the cover of American Mentoring Magazine (there isn’t one),” but says he continues doing it today “because I find it very calming, it’s stimulating, it’s sort of my night out with the guys … ”

That means that “four guys” at Altimira Middle School get to see what it means to be successful and committed and engaged with a community. It also means that those kids not only get a highly successful, very smart, obviously wealthy role model, they also get to go with Don to Giants games, drive go carts and go swimming in the Sebastiani pool.

And today, Sebastiani is just one of more than 450 Sonoma Valley mentors providing stable leadership and enriching relationships to kids who would otherwise be at far greater risk of ending up unfulfilled, uneducated and out of work.

But there are more than 170 other kids on a waiting list in the Valley, hoping that someone like Don Sebastiani will come along and hang with them, be their friend, show them the ingredients of successful living.

If you want to share that experience, you can learn more about becoming a mentor next Wednesday, Feb. 5 during a reception at MacArthur Place, 29 E. MacArthur St., from 5:30 to 7 p.m. The event is for anyone who wants to learn more about mentoring, what it takes and what it gives. There will be complimentary wine, appetizers, door prizes and “no-obligation” information. There will also be some kids there whose lives have been transformed by people like Don Sebastiani.

For more information, call the Mentoring Alliance at 938-1990, or go to sonomamentoring.org. Or just show up and check it out.