Unlikely Friendship Forged Through Covington Partners Mentoring Program

For many of us, Thanksgiving is a holiday we look forward to, in which we celebrate all that we are grateful for, gather with loved ones, and eat plentifully with joyful abandon. For Holmes High School (HHS) junior Benedictol (Benny), this Thanksgiving was his first ever to do just that in the United States. 

Born in the Goma region of the Congo and fleeing with his family at six months old to Uganda, Benny spent the first 16 years of his life surviving in the Nakivale Refugee Camp. According to Benny, “Life was so hard. There was no fresh water or food to eat. There were so many diseases the animals got from not having fresh water, and then people would eat the animals and get the diseases.”

Benny describes family life living in tents and sleeping on rugs with grass stuffed underneath. As shepherds and farmers, his family ran a small business in the refugee camp selling meat. This money was then used to pay for Benny’s and his siblings’ education, as education is (and has always been) the number one priority in Benny’s family. Benny reflects on selling meat and being hungry all of the time, but being rich in education and the love of his family. 

After many rounds of interviews, Benny’s family was selected to immigrate to the United States with the assistance of the Kentucky Refugee Ministry. Benny relays that in America he immediately felt very safe and protected living in a house. He says there was enough food available for everyone, free schooling and good jobs available, and that police would come if help was needed without bribe money. 

Once Benny started school at HHS, his guidance counselor referred him to the Covington Partners Mentoring Program, and mentor Tony slowly but surely became a very important person in Benny’s life. 

Julie Wharton, mentoring coordinator, describes Tony as “going above and beyond in his support of his mentee. He does whatever it takes to ensure the academic success and wellbeing of his mentee.”  

Further, she states, “Benny is such a bright light who has learned so much from Tony that he’s able to help many other refugee students at HHS with the transition to life and school in the U.S.” 

Benny describes his mentor Tony as “humble, honest, he always speaks the truth, and is very helpful.” Not only has Tony sought to build trust with Benny and understand more about his culture, family, language, and traditions, but he has consciously worked to build an extremely trusting relationship with Benny’s father and mother as well. Tony considers Benny's family part of his own family.

Benny expresses much gratitude to Tony for taking him to “make exercise” through frequent bike riding, family trips to the market, and even taking Benny on countless trips to learn how to drive.

Mentor Tony remarks, “I admire Benny for his drive to be the best person and student he can be. Benny works hard to be sure his homework is completed and that he excels in his job. To have a language barrier but still excel in his studies is an incredible achievement. Benny has seen his father move his family across the world and have to start over. I believe this has left Benny with a ‘can't fail’ attitude.”

Tony has worked with Benny to improve his English skills, encouraged him to receive extra help through tutoring, as well as join out-of-school time activities such as dance and soccer. Knowing that working and earning money is also important to Benny, Tony helped him find a part-time restaurant job and even drives him to and from work every Saturday. Tony enjoys experiencing so many “firsts” with Benny—seeing a horse for the first time and Benny wanting to be photographed with the horse, trying Brussels sprouts, and having their first “close call” with Benny driving. 

Since they first met over a year ago, Tony explains how much their mentoring relationship has deepened, “Since starting to mentor with Benny, our relationship has changed in that we both have a love for each other. When I hug him when we part, I feel his trust and thankfulness for our relationship. I not only have a person to mentor, I also have a best friend.”

This mentoring relationship exemplifies the program’s tagline, Mentor One Student, Change Two Lives. Tony says that he has learned “so much through [his] mentoring experience, specifically with immigrants and how much assistance and guidance they need learning to survive in America. There are so many opportunities to help and guide the refugees.” Tony and Benny have had discussions about how their relationship could benefit more refugees coming from Africa. 

Benny describes his mentor as “a good man. He is a very good man. He shares with me some of his life experiences and challenges, and I know that one day I can have a good job and own my own house too.” 

Benny hopes to attend college and become a medical professional. With a current 4.7 GPA and a cumulative GPA of 4.5 in his honors coursework, he is set up for success. Ugandan refugee Benny wants to “always work and help [his] family and others as much as he can,” and feels confident that with mentor Tony’s support, he will be very happy and successful in America.

Category: Mentoring
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