This is the second post in our October blog series, Meet the Mentor. Each week, you’ll meet a different mentor from one of EMPath’s programs.

Bryna is a Senior Mobility Mentor in EMPath’s flagship program, Career Family Opportunity. For over four years, Bryna has supported participants in achieving their goals along the journey toward economic independence.

What is a Mobility Mentor?

A Mobility Mentor is somebody who is there for a participant. We wear a lot of different hats. We are coaches and guides. We help our participants map out an individualized plan of how they’re going to get to where they want to be – economically speaking, but also in each pillar of the Bridge [to Self-Sufficiency®]. A big part of our job is helping participants see that they can do what that they set out to do, especially when things get tough.

I often remind my participants where they said they wanted to be. I also do reflection on how far they’ve come and other times they’ve been successful. I remind them that it’s normal for anyone to stumble over obstacles, and just to keep going.

How is a Mobility Mentor different than a traditional case manager?

In my experience, case managers do a lot of things for people. ‘You need a training program? Here, I’ll call them up for you.’ Mobility Mentors really give the power to our participants to do it themselves. And that looks very different for each person.

Some people who are new to the program or who are going through a hard time may feel like they don’t have the capability to, for example, call a school to find out more information about a program, or to navigate the cash benefit system. As mentors, we don’t do it for them, we do it with them. We empower, advocate, and teach them how to do it for themselves, so that when they’re done with the program, they’re able to navigate things. What strategies do they have in place? What resources do they know of? What belief do they have in themselves to be able to overcome a crisis?

Tell us about a time a participant achieved a difficult goal.

I had a participant who received her RN degree and license from Roxbury Community College. It was a difficult journey for her, not because the classes were too difficult, but because she had a lot of responsibilities at home. She was working full-time as a nurse and had another per diem job–and she was a single mom of five kids. She didn’t have a lot of time to study or prepare for the exam to become an RN. She wasn’t making enough money; she was trying to balance her finances; and every time she turned around there was an obstacle. It was hard.

You can throw resources at anybody, but unless they have time to apply and aren’t exhausted, then it’s really challenging. A big piece of my job was just reminding her that she could do it. I kept reminding her how far she’d come and brainstormed with her little things she could implement to save some time. Or maybe it was letting her know that it’s ok if she doesn’t take on those extra eight per diem hours. I also helped her figure out the tactics of advocating for herself at school so that she could get reasonable accommodation for testing.

She knew she could do it; she was just exhausted and was losing hope that there was enough time to get it done. All those little things added up, and in the end, she did it. She’s an RN now.

In her case, it was mostly about being next to her. Allowing her to cry, allowing her to feel frustrated, allowing her to know that somebody was there to emotionally support her, and offering some out-of-the-box brainstorming ideas. But really, she had it in her.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

Watching participants grow. It sounds cliché, but being in a long-term program I get to see participants’ transformation. I see them do incredible things that seem impossible at times.

Participants come into the program working a job for maybe $17 an hour and leave making $25 or $30. They do that while they’re in school, working, and taking care of their kids, and they might not have a support system. I see them learn about their finances and watch them go from not knowing what a credit report is to tracking their budget and savings, disputing things on their credit report, getting their own credit cards. That’s really cool.

Then they pass it on to people they know. People always mention things like, “I taught my cousin how to do her budget and now she’s learning how to build credit.”

Why is Mobility Mentoring effective?

It’s empowering people to take control of their own lives. We’re teaching folks how to find their own resources, how to advocate for themselves, how to hold themselves accountable, how to take what they know they need, and make things happen through SMART goal writing. It’s also effective because the participant has a partner [their mentor] who’s going through the journey with them. It’s a professional relationship, but it’s also an intimate one – we’ve got your back, we care about you, we don’t want to see you fall. We’re going through this together. Participants are not just a number to me.

In CFO [EMPath’s flagship program], we try to have fewer participants per mentor so that we have time to follow up, to help them in crisis, to meet more often during a particular period of their journey. We’re able to devote more to our participants than a typical case manager would. Quality over quantity.

What’s one thing you wish people knew about Mobility Mentoring?

I say it all the time – Mobility Mentoring works. It does. I see it working. It works differently and at different speeds for everybody, but it works.

When you put all the pieces together, it really changes people.

What is a fun fact about yourself?

I’ve lived in five countries aside from the U.S.: Mexico, Ghana, Martinique, Rwanda, and France.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I’m a nature baby. I love hiking, gardening, swimming in lakes, walking barefoot through fields, doing anything outside. I also love reading, and I love sculpting. When I was 12, I taught myself how to make china dolls. My grandma gave me a pack of polymer clay with a book on how to make clay figures, and there was a section on how to make china dolls. So that’s my creative go-to. The next one I want to make is a mermaid.


Meet mentor Carlos M.