Westmont Magazine Made to Mentor
Aileen McCall ’85 never talks to strangers on airplanes. She admits she is one of those people who hides her face in a book or her laptop from the moment she sits down until it’s time to disembark. Yet one day on a flight back to her home in Los Angeles from Chicago, Aileen suddenly found herself in a conversation with a man who worked at the Los Angeles-based Fulfillment Fund, a non-profit organization that links underprivileged students with mentors.
The conversation turned inspirational when Aileen realized she would like to become a mentor. Two things stood out to her as daunting: the five-year commitment demanded of the mentors, and the lack of free time in her already over-committed schedule. She confesses, “I had minimal expectations. I figured I’d spend a couple hours a month with them.”
Having just gone through an emotional career change, Aileen was looking for something more worthwhile in which to invest her time. The program matched her up with Milvia Vallardes, a 16-year-old Latina girl who had never been in a movie theater or eaten in a fancy restaurant. Their relationship slowly grew through their outings, which included movies, hanging out on Santa Monica Pier, and even showing Milvia how to use a computer and the Internet. In a feature story in the Los Angeles Times, Milvia revealed, “Aileen gave me a whole new set of eyes to see the world. Before meeting her, I was not comfortable going to certain places because I am Hispanic and poor. She helped me believe in myself.”
That was partly Aileen’s goal. She knows how new experiences can be scary, but wanted to show Milvia that tackling her fear was worthwhile. “I wanted to show her, the more fears you can put behind you, the more you can experience.” That lesson was evident the day Aileen took Milvia horseback riding. “At the beginning, Milvia was terrified and did not want to go. By the end of the ride, she wasn’t loving it, but realized it wasn’t as bad as she had made it. She became braver about trying other new activities. Experiences like that were huge for her.”
Those experiences were as rewarding, if not more so, for Aileen. “I watched this shy girl expand her horizons almost weekly. To stand at the airport with her mom and brother as Milvia left for college is such a precious memory to me. I also realized I had a lot more in common with people who seemed so different than me. It was so rewarding.”
Aileen was named “Mentor of the Year” in June 2001 for her work with Milvia (they posed with Warren Beatty at the event), and she is currently in another mentoring relationship. She praises the Fulfillment Fund, which runs the mentoring program and also offers college scholarship money.
“It’s funny,” Aileen says. “Although I am supposed to be helping these kids out, I end up getting so much more back. If I had known one plane conversation would have turned out this way, I’d have been talking to people long before now.”
Aileen lives in Los Angeles where she is vice president of investments with Sutro & Company.