The Shriver Report – How a Mentorship Helped Pave the Way to the White House

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How a Mentorship Helped Pave the Way to the White House


Wow. Watching the State of the Union last week and seeing my friend, Sabrina, sitting with Michelle Obama was the thrill of a lifetime. To see someone’s life change positively because of a connection I helped to facilitate gave me affirmation.  I have spent many years advocating the importance of women helping other women. Mentoring.

I met Sabrina when she came to work at the County Housing Authority where I serve on the Board of Commissioners. We got to talking and she told me about herself….. OK, I interviewed her as I tend to do when I meet people. Her story blew me away.

At that time, I was the Executive Director at the Center for Women where for the last 12 years I advocated for women in the community by preaching economic empowerment, leadership development and mentoring. I was thrilled when anyone asked me to be their mentor. I loved having young women who were struggling recognize that they wanted to move forward and fearlessly seek me out. Today I work with other nonprofits that want to offer women’s leadership and entrepreneurial programs. I continue to mentor and love it.

Sabrina was one of those women who flat out asked me to be her mentor and I happily accepted.

62% of lower income women and 79% of single moms believe that they will improve their financial situation in the next 5 years.
A Woman's Nation Pushes Back From The Brink

Little did we know that she would end up at the State of the Union.

She did because when she had an opportunity to tell her story to a national audience, she did. The Shriver Report called me looking for a woman who would be willing to share her challenges and I immediately thought of Sabrina. I called and asked if she would be willing to spend a day having her life chronicled in photographs and she accepted without a pause.

I invited her to the house along with the amazing Callie Shell, a photographer who had worked closely with the First Family and was now volunteering with The Shriver Report. They hit it off immediately and the rest is history. Sabrina’s story was included in The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink released last week and then the White House called her.

There are two important lessons I learned from this experience.

One, we all need to be aware of issues that women are facing all over the country but particularly in South Carolina, since we’re behind in so many areas. The second lesson is the power of women helping each other, mentoring. As Madeleine Albright said, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

Mentoring is not a transactional relationship. It is helping someone sort out how they approach a career, specific work projects and their life in general. Mentoring is helping to guide another person’s development on their terms and in their time frame. I mentor because I have been mentored on numerous occasions by smart, savvy people with a generosity of spirit. If I can help women to move forward with pride, dignity and confidence I will have succeeded.

So congratulations, my friend. Mrs. Obama, I am glad you had the opportunity to meet Sabrina and hear her story.

Now Sabrina, it’s your turn to mentor.

Jennet Robinson Alterman is a Reporter for The Shriver Report.
Jennet Robinson Alterman is a native of Charleston and is the President and CEO of J. Robinson Alterman LLC., a consulting practice that assists organizations in developing leadership and entrepreneurial training programs for women.
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