By Gabriella Tufo Strouse, Community Outreach Director
“It takes a village,” was the somewhat cliché subject heading of a back and forth email thread between Mark Johnson, Lynne Tiballi, and myself 5 years ago. Together, we were making a plan to advocate for special services at school for a boy named Hassan, then in 2nd grade. That concept of collective support has become our mantra. Lynne started out as Hassan’s tutor, but quickly realized that their friendship was something special – and she wanted to take Hassan beyond the doors of King Street Center and into the community. Recognizing that Hassan also needed a positive male figure in his life, Mark agreed to co-mentor Hassan with Lynne. Ever since, the two of them have been Hassan’s strongest and sincerest advocates.
Never wavering from their role as mentors, even in the most difficult of times, Lynne and Mark have weathered some challenging elementary and middle school years – requesting school meetings, staying in constant touch with teachers, and providing hours upon hours of reading and math support. Hassan was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, his family hailing from Somalia. Mark and Lynne have been instrumental in helping him to navigate American culture and norms, giving him chores to teach the importance of earning and budgeting money, and helping him to integrate into the community by enrolling and driving Hassan to basketball practices and games. The angst of adolescence in smoothed over when Lynne takes Hassan to see the latest movie or with Mark takes him for a nice dinner in a restaurant.These are also opportunities to engage difficult conversations – but also to prove their unconditional love, support, and guidance.
While Hassan has benefited significantly from this mentoring relationship, he is not alone in the rewards of friendship. He is a deeply caring young man, filled with charisma – attracting many friends and is a central figure in his large family. Hassan brings great joy and light to both Mark and Lynne. Hassan considers these long-time mentors to be an important part of his family. Their passion, dedication, and commitment is unsurpassable.
I am grateful that Mark and Lynne do not keep their mentoring skills a secret. They bring tremendous wisdom to King Street Center’s Junior Senior Buddy Advisory Committee, dedicating additional time to help strengthen our mentoring program for so many other volunteers. Lynne and Mark are incredible advocates for mentoring in the community, both truly understanding the commitment and steadfast approach it takes to develop a long lasting friendship with a youth.
King Street Center is proud to nominate Lynne Tiballi and Mark Johnson as Mentor of the Year.