Here’s a copy of an article that I penned recently about my mentees and I.  It’s running in the current edition of the Venture Philanthropy Partners monthly newsletter.  It explains the lessons I learned and took to heart from one of my primary mentors, Mario Morio, DC’s “Godfather of Philanthropy” and co-founder of VPP.

Singing, Dancing Lead to Mentor Relationship

Editor’s Note: Jimmy Lynn, Managing Partner at JLynn Associates and VPP donor, contributed this first-person account of his rewarding experiences mentoring a student from VPP investment partner AALEAD.

A few years ago, Mario [Morino] asked me to host a dinner for some friends who might be interested in learning more about VPP.  At that dinner, I clearly recall Mario telling us not just to write a check but also to get involved with one of the VPP nonprofit organizations.  Since Mario is one of my mentors and I listen intently to his advice, I reviewed the list and came across Asian American LEAD (AALEAD). I joined their board a couple of years ago and also serve as the co-chair of the development committee.

But, I like to do more than board work; I also like to mentor and help the students.

This past December, at the AALEAD holiday party, the students performed skits and sang holiday songs on the stage.  But there was one young student with the guts to do a solo performance in front of everybody.  After she finished, I congratulated her, and then I asked where her parents were.  She replied that they were both working.

Fast forward to our AALEAD annual party in February 2009, at the China Garden. Chancellor [Michelle] Rhee was our honored guest speaker, and she delivered a tremendous speech that resonated with everyone.  The students provided the evening’s entertainment, and, once again, this young student had the guts to sing solo…in front of 450 people!

Who is this student?  She’s a 10-year-old fifth grader named Sally. (I saw her first brave performance when she was only nine.) I told her I was impressed with her performance and asked her if she was seriously interested in singing and dancing.  She answered with a resounding “Yes!”

So, I took her and her mother to a dance performance with the Capitol Movement Project (I’m on the board of directors of this urban dance company) at the Lincoln Theatre in March.  Sally loved it, especially when I took her backstage to meet many of the performers. Jimmy Lynn and Sally prepare for Sally’s performance as a Junior Redskins Cheerleader.

In June, I had dinner with Sally, her mother, and Rosetta Lai (AALEAD’s Executive Director) .  Since Sally’s mother doesn’t speak English, Rosetta interpreted for us.  I told her that I thought Sally has a lot of talent and offered to pay for her dancing and singing lessons as well as tutoring.  The mother asked, “Why would someone want to help a family from a small town in China?”  I explained how my mentors, Mario and Ted Leonsis, taught me about the importance of “giving back” and helping others.  I told her about the many other DC young people that I mentor.  Once she heard the explanation, she expressed her gratitude and accepted the offer.

Since then, I’ve taken Sally to dance classes at the Capitol Movement Studio as well as signed her up as part of the Junior Redskins Cheerleaders. She’ll be performing in front of 90,000 fans at three Redskins games this year!

I go to dinner regularly with Sally, her mother, and her 14-year-old brother, Da-Zhi, who is also part of AALEAD and a freshman at Woodrow Wilson Senior High.  I’m starting to play a mentor role to Da-Zhi as well.

At dinner last week, Da-Zhi told his mother that he’d like to be like me when he grows up.  I took that as a huge compliment.  I told him that’s why it’s important that he studies hard so he can do well in high school and go to college since education is the great equalizer.  Sally reiterated her desire to become a doctor.

At that point, Sally’s mother looked sad and said she didn’t think they could send their children to college, primarily due to financial reasons. I immediately told her to erase that thought.  I promised I will do all I can—through a combination of scholarships, grants, loans, my personal donation, etc.—to ensure that her children go to college.  The happiness on her face was priceless.

Soon, I’m going to take Sally and Da-Zhi to the classes I teach at Georgetown University, as well as walk them around the campus so they can start to get a feel for what college is like.  I’m also going to have a couple of my friends who attend Georgetown University Medical School show Sally around their school and the hospital.

Friends who know about this mentorship tell me that Sally and Da-Zhi are lucky I’m now part of their life.  Well, it’s a two-way street since I feel fortunate that they’re part of my life.

This relationship would not have come together without VPP and it’s just one more reason why VPP is so important—we can truly make a difference in the lives of these deserving children in the Greater DC Region.

— Jimmy Lynn