All in for YWLP
YWLP offers young women a variety of ways to be involved with mentoring during their UVA years – and Claire Buckholz has served in ALL of them. Most students in YWLP serve as Big Sisters who mentor local middle school girls. Some of them return for another year in the program as mentoring group facilitators for a group of Big and Little Sisters. Others shift to supporting the program on the YWLP intern team working closely with our staff. The interns and senior intern help ensure that the Big Sisters have all of the support they need to be effective mentors, and they learn from our staff about the important work of collaborating with YWLP’s four partnering middle schools and the parents of the Little Sisters.
It’s relatively rare for 1st year students to serve as YWLP Big Sisters, but Claire expressed her interest right away upon arriving at UVA. Her disappointment at initially being told to apply for the following year instead soon turned to excitement when a space opened up and YWLP Mentoring Coordinator, Sarah Jenkins, contacted Claire to offer it to her. Since then she’s gone on to serve as a group facilitator and intern with YWLP. This year she is the program’s senior intern. We recently caught up with Claire to ask about the insights she’s gained from her unique set of experiences with YWLP.
Four roles in four years! Do you have a favorite YWLP memory?
For our Fall Finale, all of the girls do a performance. When I was a Big in my 1st year, our 8th graders thought they were too cool for school. We tried to get them to create their own dance. And they didn’t. So we, the Big Sisters, designed the whole dance, which just felt ridiculous. We were so nervous thinking, “The girls hate this dance. Is it just going to be us Big Sisters, up on stage with our Littles going, ‘This is lame!’?” We were really worried about it. Then we got to Fall Finale, and all the Little Sisters got really excited. They put on their YWLP t-shirts, and they all got up and were dancing on stage, and it just was so fun. And It’s so cute how excited the parents get, too.
There was the cool kid act sometimes, but in moments like that the Littles would let on that they actually liked hanging out with us. I’m so sad that we can’t have Fall Finale this year. But as I’ve been doing our check-in meetings with the Big Sisters this fall, I’m honestly so pleasantly surprised by how they’ve been saying that everything’s been going. Despite having to do meetings over Zoom, they’ve still been able to build a relationship and a rapport. That’s been encouraging to hear.
What was your experience like as a YWLP Big Sister?
With my little especially it really took her time to warm up to me. I learned that she was kind of testing me at first. She had had different people come in and out of her life. I had to prove to her that I cared about her. It just took time, patience, and perseverance on my part. I came into the program thinking that we were going to be best friends. It was really tough with her. Winx Lawrence set me up to meet with a former big who had had a very similar experience with her little. Having that conversation with someone who had gone through the exact same situation was really helpful and eye opening. And Melissa Levy, Sarah, and Jaronda would always check in on me. There were points where I kind of wanted to quit. Everyone else was getting closer with their littles. My little literally seemed like she wanted nothing to do with me. The YWLP faculty and staff encouraged me to stay with it, and so did the other Bigs in my group. Everyone was really supportive. By December she slowly started to open up more and more. I just saw my little a couple months ago. We went and got coffee. We still have a relationship. It just took a really long time, but she let me in and since then I have become, hopefully, an important person in her life.
Being a big sister, I learned how to work in a team. Obviously we had our individual relationships with the little sisters, but we also would do a lot of group activities, and we wanted the girls to get along, and we wanted to have a good group dynamic. We all just wanted to look out for one another. So we became even more than a team. We became kind of like a family, which was really cool.
As a1st year in 2017-18, Claire Buckholz and her YWLP Little Sister joined all of the YWLP students, faculty, and staff in celebrating YWLP's 20th Anniversary year.
What have you learned by staying involved with YWLP over multiple years?
My group facilitator had been so important to me as a Big Sister that I wanted to do the same for other Bigs. It was interesting being a facilitator as a 2nd year because I had Bigs who were 3rd and 4th years. That was a bit challenging for me at times because I’m not a very confrontational person. Sometimes when I was trying to lead something they would kind of try to take charge. I just had to learn how to be a good leader. Sarah Jenkins and Jaronda Miller-Bryant taught our facilitator class that year and were just phenomenal. I remember we did one activity where the Bigs gave us feedback on how we were doing. Five out of six of my Bigs said, “she’s great,” and one of them noted that I “could have kind of a stronger presence.” I thought, “Oh my God. They said something that I’m doing wrong!” Sarah and Jaronda said, “Claire, it’s not even that bad, and it’s important to learn how take feedback.” It was funny and I loved my group that year, too. The Littles were awesome. They were so, so fun.
I definitely think that each role was a stepping stone. After being a Big Sister my 1st year, that experience was really helpful as a facilitator for a group of Bigs and Littles my 2nd year. When you're talking to the Bigs in your group, you can relate to them directly. You know exactly what they're talking about and what they've been through. And honestly the same goes for stepping behind the scenes as part of the intern team my 3rd year. As interns, we have check-in meetings with the Big Sisters and are just an extra support for them. In these check-in meetings, even though it’s been two years since I've worked directly in a group, I can totally relate with them. That helps build the relationship between me as an intern and the current Big Sisters. I do think it's been a nice stepping stone kind of process in terms of specific skills that I've learned in every role.
I really love the Women's Center because I feel like everyone has this mutual understanding that whatever team you're a part of is going to be really caring and kind and empathetic towards one another. You're all working towards the same goal, but we care about each other as humans too. Sarah Jenkins pushes for that in all of our groups. With the management team last year, I got to know the other interns so well, and learned how to work behind the scenes. This year as a senior intern, I have been working closely with Sarah and I love her. Again, I'm in a leadership role, so I'm learning how to delegate to the other interns.
Has anything in YWLP been different from what you expected?
When I was coming in my 1st year, I was excited about mentoring. I really wanted to get involved with the Charlottesville community, and working with girls was an interest of mine. I did not expect for it to be something that I was a part of for four years. And I did not expect to find such a great community out of it, but that how it’s been with the Women’s Center. It’s like my home. It's just such a good community that I'm not always consciously aware of how much it means to me. But then I’ll have my senior intern meetings with the other senior interns from all of the Center’s programs on Mondays. I'll just be sitting in my living room for the meeting and afterwards my roommates ask, “What was that meeting? You kept smiling and laughing.” And I say, “That's my senior intern meeting, because everyone is so funny and so loving.”
These are people that I would never have met. We come from all different quarters of UVA. It's just such a supportive network of people. And again, that's why it's so sad that we can't have in-person meetings but still I feel so connected to them, and I think that's what surprises me the most. I still feel so connected to the other Big Sisters from 1st and 2nd year. These are lasting relationships because we've all gone through something together. We worked with middle schoolers for a whole year together and that was tough, but we could bond over it. And the same thing with Sarah. She has become my mentor at UVA. I don't know what I would have done without her. So I guess the biggest surprise is the sense of community and family that YWLP and the Women's Center have given me.
When Claire Buckholz served as a Big Sister for the YWLP 8th grade group at Jouett Middle School, she valued the support of her group's facilitator, Supriya Williamson. Claire went on to serve as the mentoring group facilitator for YWLP's 7th grade group at Burley Middle School in her 2nd year at UVA.
Are there ways that you think YWLP will help you in your career?
The YWLP class actually introduced me to one of my majors, the Youth and Social Innovation Program in the Education School led by Melissa Levy. That has been wonderful. I was going to study environmental science when I first came to UVA. Then I found YWLP and said, “Wait, this is what I care about and what I want to do.” It totally shifted my trajectory working with different people through YWLP like Winx who I was so lucky to be there for her last year. I’m so grateful for that. My plan right now is teaching special education for Teach for America next year. Later I would like to go to grad school for clinical or school psychology. Maybe that’s back here at UVA because we have a really great program. I feel strongly about working with young women and pursuing a profession that allows me to do that in a therapy type setting.
YWLP has had a huge impact on my career plans. The woman I babysit for was even involved with YWLP. She’s a triple Hoo, Amanda Sovik-Johnston, and I think she had the same experience where YWLP helped influence her career path because she’s a clinical psychologist now. YWLP has a great network of strong, supportive women.