I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I paused before saying "yes" to serve as a mentor for BRAVO Greater Des Moines’ new Diversity In Arts Leadership (DIAL) program.

I didn’t pause because I questioned the program. DIAL, administered by Americans for the Arts, is a nationwide, competitive program that matches summer internships with undergraduate students from backgrounds traditionally untapped for arts leadership. It’s an amazing program, and our community is fortunate to have it.

And I didn’t pause because I questioned whether I could do the job. I have had incredible mentors who demonstrated how to actively listen, give advice and make connections. I knew the drill.

I paused because, like everyone, my time is precious. I barely make it to my kid’s conferences. Was taking on mentoring a college student going to be worth it?

Ultimately I agreed because I believe that the program will make a difference and that I could add value to it. What I didn’t realize was how much value my mentee, Maria, would provide to me.
Maria taught me so much about Generation Z. Most glaringly, that I really need to up my Instagram game. It was amazing to learn how she has used technology, like Instagram, to connect with people all across the world. And despite what you may have heard, Maria’s generation cares deeply, and advocates not just for "rights," but for what is right.

Maria has taught me about passion and belief. She has incredibly large dreams and wears them boldly. The jaded side of me thought about the many obstacles she is going to face, but I pushed those aside to share in her positivity and to connect her with the people I know who have succeeded in realizing their own bold dreams.

Maria made me feel happy. Exchanging a check-in text or chatting about her weekend over coffee simply brought energy and optimism to my day.

And as I reflected on my relationships with the mentors I’ve had over the years I realized that I had it wrong. The advice and connections are great, but it’s building an authentic, long-lasting relationship that makes it all worth the time — for both parties.

Jenna Knox is external relations manager at Broadlawns Medical Center. She and her husband, Izaah, live in Des Moines with their three children. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Editor's note: This column was updated to reflect Knox's correct title on Sept. 30, 2019 at 3:30 p.m.