5-minute read

Providing mentorship through Community Connectors

An Ohio State student shares what she's learned from mentoring a young girl new to the United States and to central Ohio.
Community Connectors at Ohio State students pose for a photo.
Community Connectors at Ohio State invites students to help new Americans in central Ohio, such as this blanket-making event with Phi Alpha Delta, an international law fraternity. From left are Ciara Reitz, Allison Saghir (of Phi Alpha Delta), Surekha Garapati and Avani Pham. (Photo from Community Connectors at Ohio State)

For almost two years, Avani Pham ’26 has been a friendly and supportive figure for a new American family as they adjust to life in Columbus. She visits their home once a week to spend time with the kids — understanding that if they’re not at school, they’re inside the house.

Avani was paired with the family through the Community Connectors (CC) mentorship program under Community Refugee & Immigration Services (CRIS), a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping refugees and immigrants achieve safety, stability and successful integration into communities in central Ohio.

Community Connectors at Ohio State (CCOSU) is a student organization that recruits mentors and fundraises for CRIS CC. As co-president and treasurer of CCOSU, Avani has become a cherished member of her mentee’s family through her impactful mentorship and friendship.

Here, she shares more about the organization and her experience.

Why did you join Community Connectors?

What drew me to this organization specifically is I knew I wanted to participate in some sort of mentorship. Both of my parents are immigrants, one a refugee, so I was connected to the cause in that way. Community Connectors married my passion for community service and mentorship with my own background. As a mentor, you’re making a tangible difference, not just performative activism. Things you may provide to your mentee include but are not limited to companionship, homework help and life skills, and you become a part of their family.

From left, Reitz, Pham and Garapati promote their organization on Ohio State’s Columbus campus (photo from Community Connectors at Ohio State).

What are some of your responsibilities as co-president?

My role involves a lot of outreach. I’m constantly contacting other organizations to collaborate or work with us in some sort of capacity; maintaining long-term relationships with other organizations as well as generally keeping things running in the club. I also make preparations for and run all of the committee meetings and am in charge of our March Kindness fundraiser.

What is March Kindness?

March Kindness is our biggest fundraising initiative where we host service events and try to raise as much as we can for CRIS Community Connectors. All the money we raise goes directly to the new American families for immediate use to cover expenses their financial assistance doesn’t cover, such as food, rent, warm clothing and school supplies.

How can other people get involved with Community Connectors?

You have to be an Ohio State student to join the Community Connectors student organization, but anyone can be part of the nonprofit that provides the mentorship program. It’s simple to start, but it’s a big commitment because you have to be consistent, but if it’s important to you, you’ll make the time for it. You can denote your preferences in the application initially, such as the age range you want to work with, preferences with language, etc. It could be instant or take a few weeks to pair mentors with mentees, but you will eventually be placed with a mentee that you will build lasting connections with.

Members of Community Connectors and Phi Alpha Delta (photo: Community Connectors at Ohio State).

Is there a time with your mentee that stands out?

I wasn’t able to see my mentee during winter break, and since all communication goes through her parents, I was able to surprise her after the break. My mentee was so excited to see me and gave me the longest hug, saying, “I’ve missed you so much and I’ve been so bored without you.” I’ve seen my mentee come out of her shell, and it makes my heart melt every time I get to spend time with her. It’s less of a mentor/mentee relationship and more of a big sister/little sister relationship.

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