Interview with Lauren Sobot, Founder of the Proud Pairs Mentorship Program
interview with Lauren Sobot, by Addy Strickland |
Lauren Sobot is a 2021 graduate of StFX University, where she completed a joint honours degree in biology and psychology. Based in Halifax, Lauren is the founder and coordinator of the Proud Pairs mentorship program, which she started with the support of a Pathy Foundation Fellowship shortly after graduating. Lauren is passionate about supporting 2SLGBTQ+ youth in any way she can, and hopes to one day channel that passion and her passion for mentorship into a career in medicine.
On April 20, 2022, CEI Youth Engagement Specialist Addy Strickland joined Lauren Sobot on Zoom to chat about the evolution of Proud Pairs, and the key learnings coming out of the program.
Addy Strickland (AS): I’d love if you could start by telling me a little bit about yourself. So, who is Lauren Sobot?
Lauren Sobot (LS): So, I recently graduated from StFX in 2021. I got my joint honours in biology and psychology, and I’m originally from Ontario, from Burlington, which is about an hour outside of Toronto. But I decided to take the plunge and come to StFX and a tiny little town, and I’m just so glad I did. I’m currently based in Halifax, I’ve decided that the Nova Scotian life is, at least for the foreseeable future, it’s for me. So I’m currently based in Halifax, and I received the Pathy Foundation Fellowship for the 2021-2022 cohort. So I’m currently working on my project, which is establishing a mentorship program for 2SLGBTQ+ plus youth. More about me—maybe as you can tell, or will be able to tell—I’m very passionate about mentorship, and I’ve had just incredible experiences with my own mentors in university. I’m really passionate about supporting 2SLGBTQ+ youth in any way I can, and just learning more about the effect that social support and mentorship has on these youth. And I guess my end goal, or my broader career goal, would be to pursue medicine, but I know that mentorship will be a lifelong endeavor for me in whatever way I can. And I guess, besides the professional side of things, I really like music, playing musical instruments, I’m into a few sports, I’m very amateur skateboarder, like, emphasis on the amateur, spending time with family and friends, and I’ve been having a really great time exploring the Maritimes these past couple of summers.
AS: You mentioned this mentorship program that you started, which is the reason we’re here today—to chat a bit more about that—and you’ve called this program Proud Pairs. I’d love if you could tell me a little bit more about that project.
LS: So Proud Pairs is a one-on-one mentorship program connecting 2SLGBTQ+ youth and 2SLGBTQ+ adults in the Halifax Regional Municipality. And essentially, the goal of the program is to give youth social support—someone that they can confide in who’s been through a similar lived experience, who has experience with navigating life as 2SLGBTQ+. I’m hoping that youth will be able to seek advice, just get a listening ear, learn from the stories of others, and just have a good time. I want these friendships, these intergenerational friendships, to develop from these mentoring relationships. And in addition to the one-on-one component of the mentoring program, we also have larger group events. So, all mentors and mentees get in one space and we do an activity together, and this was just to facilitate relationships outside of the mentoring dyad and also to foster more of an intergenerational LGBTQ+ community in Halifax, because often intergenerational spaces within the queer community are hard to find because programs and community supports are really segregated by age. So there are youth programs, there are social events for adults and for elders as well, but it’s harder to find things that bring everyone into one space.
AS: That’s fantastic, and that sounds like so much fun for everyone. I’m curious also, what inspired you to start this program, and why does mentorship matter to you?
LS: For sure, so, um, I guess it started when I had a difficult time coming out to my parents when I was 16, and just my teenage years were filled with a lot of confusion and hardships and loneliness when it came to discovering my queer identity. And I was left feeling really confused, and maybe confused isn’t the right word, we’ll leave that one out. I was left feeling like I didn’t have a picture of what my future could look like in mind. I couldn’t envision a happy queer future for myself, and I was lucky enough to meet one of my psychology professors in university, at StFX, Dr. Karen Blair, who has now moved on to Trent, but she has her own 2SLGBTQ+ psychology lab. I got involved in that research lab as a research assistant. I took like four of her courses, I took a course from her wife, Dr. Rhea Ashley Hoskin, and I even started dog sitting for them. And basically over the years, we developed this organic mentoring relationship where I got to get advice from them, and I learned from their stories and their experiences with coming out and navigating these unique challenges. And it not just challenges but also the joys of being Queer. So my relationships with Dr. Blair and Dr. Hoskin were just transformative in helping me see myself in other people—two successful happy, gay women. So that’s where the idea came from was I was just so thankful for this serendipitous mentorship, that I wanted to give that experience to other queer youth, I wanted other queer youth to have their own Karen and Ashley. So yeah, I guess that’s the story. And I always knew that the Pathy Fellowship was an option for graduates of StFX and other universities in Canada, and I had seen those posters around campus for years, and I always wanted to apply but just could never imagine myself coming up with an idea for a project. But again, after this relationship with Karen and Ashley, it was a no brainer—I had to bring this experience of mentorship to other queer youth and use the Pathy Fellowship to do so.
AS: That’s awesome, and that’s a great story. So you’re four months now into Proud Pairs, and after paying witness to all of these mentorship relationships as they’ve played out so far, and having your own to draw from as well, I’m wondering what you think it takes to make a relationship, or like a mentorship relationship, successful?
LS: I would say that having shared experiences and identities is very important in a mentorship, but potentially even more so is a personality fit. So, so far, we’ve been matching mentor mentee pairs on the basis of identity, if the mentee indicates that they want that. I mean, there’s been a lot of mentees coming in saying that I’d really appreciate a non-binary mentor because I’m navigating my own non-binary identity. So we’ve been matching primarily based on an identity so far, but I think that going forward, I’d also like to see if a personality fit or like some kind of personality questionnaire would be beneficial as well, because at the end of the day, the best mentorships are built on a solid friendship and genuine personality compatibility. So that would be my first kind of observation. Another one is feeling like you can, mentees feeling like they can talk to their mentor about anything. And of course, this trust takes time to accrue, but really, this relationship is one built off of trust and openness and vulnerability so it’s absolutely crucial that mentors come at this from not at all of a place of judgment, not projecting their own experiences onto a mentee, but really just that very open, honest and vulnerable connection.
I’d also say that with any relationship, it takes effort, it takes time. It is an inherently awkward experience to be matched with a random stranger, by another stranger. So, it definitely takes time, patience, and effort to get to know each other and to develop this relationship of trust. So, I would say to mentors and mentees, don’t get discouraged if the first few meetings are awkward. I also have noticed that mentorship is a two-way street. This isn’t just a mentor coming in to change a youth slay for give the magic formula, give the perfect pieces of advice. It’s definitely a reciprocal learning process of the mentor imparts their own knowledge and wisdom and the mentee imparts their own knowledge and wisdom, because we all have something to learn from each other.
I think my last piece would be that mentors do not have to have all of the answers. So that’s been a common anxiety expressed by many mentors in the program is that they are nervous about getting questions that they don’t know how to answer or situations that they’re not really sure how to handle. But really, they don’t need to have all the answers, they just need to show up and listen. So I would say that the openness of the mentor to listen and learn, and really just be a grounding support for youth is just the most important factor. So that is what I have learned from mentors and mentees so far.
AS: Awesome. Those are some great learnings that I’m sure folks will be very excited to hear. Building off of that question as well, I’m wondering if you have any advice for employers or organizations who might want to incorporate mentorship into how they work?
LS: Yes. So I would say that providing ongoing support for matches is very important. At least in Proud Pairs, I do a monthly check in or a bi-monthly check in with mentors and mentees individually, just to see how their match is going learn some of the ins and outs and intricacies of the relationship such as how often they meet, the general categories of things they talk about, if they feel like they’re giving the right support or receiving the right support, and if they’re feeling safe and comfortable in the relationship. And I also make sure to ask “how can I support you?” And I think this is crucial to let mentors and mentees know that they are well supported in the program, and it’s especially helpful for mentors to know that they have someone to go to if they’re not sure how to handle situations. So yeah, that’s my first point.
Building off of that, providing training for both mentors and mentees to make sure that they know what’s expected of these relationships, establishing boundaries, and teaching pairs how to establish their own boundaries. And providing ongoing resources as well. So just knowing that training is not a one and done, there’s tons of learning to be done and so much to work on and grow in your relationship. And I think something that I would recommend is having a space where mentors can interact with each other for support. So we have an Instagram group chat with just the mentors, and I made the group and then left like 10 minutes later, so, I just wanted it to be like a closed space where people could vent all their frustrations or get advice, just being vulnerable with what they need support with. So I’d say yeah, probably a mentor only space would be great. And I would also recommend for Pairs to set goals for the relationship. And they don’t have to be super concrete. So for example, in my context, I’m definitely not looking for mentees to come in and saying, “I want to be 43% more confident in my queer identity, by the time I am done with Proud Pairs.” I just encourage parents to remind themselves of why they signed up in the first place, what they’re looking to give as well as get from the relationship, just to make everyone feel like they have a purpose in being there.
And I would also advise that organizations take a look at what criteria they would like to match mentors and mentees based on. And I think the match can be tailored based on what mentees are looking for—let them pick the criteria of what they’re choosing. So, for example, if there’s someone who is really looking for mentorship in order to advance their career, or maybe they’re super set on becoming a graphic designer, or a software engineer, then maybe in that case, it might be best to match them with someone who is a graphic designer is a software engineer. But if the youth is looking for support with dealing with burnout, or just looking for a friendly face in the company to guide their transition into the workforce, or into this new role, or even, again, just to have a friendly face in the company, then maybe a personality match might be better. But in the end, asking mentors about what kind of support they’re most comfortable with providing whether that be strictly focused focusing on career advancement, or maybe they have experience with dealing with burnout, navigating mental health in the workplace, if they’re a minority… Asking mentors about what they can provide can be remarkably helpful in matching youth in the most effective and purposeful mentorships possible.
AS: Awesome. That’s all really great advice. Thanks so much for talking to me today!
LS: Of course, it was such a pleasure. Always great to chat with you.
Youth Engagement Specialist
Addy Strickland is the lead researcher and writer of the CEI’s Youth Engagement Framework. Addy joined the CEI team in July 2021 with more than 10 years of experience in youth-led spaces. She adopts a story-based, first-voice approach to youth engagement, and is working to foster welcoming, youth-friendly spaces both within the CEI and the field of career and employment development more broadly. Prior to working for the CEI, Addy graduated from StFX University with an Honours degree in Development Studies, where she focused on using art and story as tools for community development and social change.