I had no idea what to expect when I learned I would be matched with a mentor during my freshman year of high school through iMentor. I thought it was a little weird meeting up with a stranger once a month and sending him emails every week. But something told me to take it seriously, especially when I heard that this guy signed up to help me get into college and planned to stay in touch with me after.
I'm really into football. I'm a quarterback, so when I filled out my mentor match survey, I asked to be paired with somebody else who was into football. As a result, I got Kwam for a mentor. He played football in college, and he has shown and taught me so much. Looking back, filling out that survey was the day I started taking my life seriously.
When I was in elementary and junior high, I put very little effort into school. I was one of those kids who sat in the back of the room and talked to my friends during class. After school, I would hang out with older guys on the block instead of doing my homework. The only thing I cared about was sports. I dreamed of playing college football, and my eyes opened up when I got to high school and found out I needed an 80 average to qualify for the high school team. My grades got better, but I was still only doing the bare minimum to keep an 85 average in most of my classes.
My mom works hard and does the best she can for our family, but Kwam was the first person to sit down and talk to me about the college application process. He helped me understand what I should be working toward. He showed me statistics that made me think.
"If all athletes need an 80 grade point average to play D1 football, what is going to separate you from them?" he asked me once. "What if one guy has an 82 average but is one inch taller than you?"
That day, we made a plan to improve my grades even more, but then things changed.
Because of his job, Kwam had to move from Brooklyn, where I live, to Boston, and neither one of us was sure what would happen to our relationship. But Kwam kept emailing every week and traveling from Boston to New York to make it to our monthly meetings. It really meant a lot for me to see Kwam, a successful, educated African American man with a family, willing to fly, take the train, or drive all the way to New York.
One of the other big lessons that Kwam taught me is the importance of making a good impression by how I dress, act, and who I surround myself with. I see the importance of putting myself in the shoes of others who might make judgments about me. This could be people my own age or people in positions of authority at school or in my community.
I'm proud of the person I have become, and I like that I can walk into the principal's office at school and hold my head up high.
I feel blessed to have Kwam as my mentor. With his help, I brought my average up from an 82 to a 90. And this year, we worked together to come up with a short list of colleges, including Stony Brook, Temple, and Hofstra.
I know Kwam will always be there for me whenever I need him. He believes in me, and he made me realize that some day I can be somebody's role model and mentor, too.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and NYC Service, the latter of which is a division of the Office of the Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio. NYC Service promotes volunteerism, engages New Yorkers in service, and mobilizes the power of volunteers and service year members to impact New York City's greatest needs. To learn more about NYC Service and volunteer opportunities in New York City, click here.
Damario Spalding, Class of 2016, is a rising senior at the High School for Innovation in Advertising and Media in New York City. He hails from Brooklyn and is passionate about football, playing quarterback, defensive back, and receiver for his high school team. Since 2012, he has been matched with his mentor, Kwam, through iMentor, a college-success nonprofit that partners with public high schools to match each student with a mentor. The pair plans to continue their match through Damario's college years.