I began dreaming about starting a mentoring program shortly after I had joined the WOVA Board in 1999 when I read Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. The book profoundly affected my desire to do something to help raise the self-esteem of young women. Over the years, WOVA members had told me that they would love for WOVA to sponsor a mentoring program. We looked into it from various aspects and realized that it would be almost prohibitive for us to start a program for young women under the age of 18 because of the legal issues involved. So, what if we started a program for young women OVER the age of 18?
The idea just would not go away. Yet I never seemed to be able to get the program off the ground. Then in May 2003 I met a delightful young WOVA member named Marcella Eversole at an event sponsored by Friendly Favors. She and I were attracted like magnets. We spent the evening talking about the possibilities of starting a collaborative mentoring program between WOVA and an organization she had co-founded called SpiralMuse. We started exchanging emails and Marcie pulled together about 8 other young women from SpiralMuse who were interested in starting this program. With the blessing of the WOVA Board, our steering committee was born! From that point on the project took on a life of its own. We had meetings and conference calls. We decided on a name, created a vision statement and designed a program in record time!
The name Athena Wisdom Exchange was chosen for several reasons.
We understood and honored the idea that both women in the partnership share and exchange their wisdom, whether they are coming to this program as a mentor or mentee. The relationship between the two women paired would grow based on an exchange of the unique wisdom each woman had to offer.
Generations of women are supporting each other as we allow the power of the feminine to bring balance in the world. Our visions are manifested through the channels that are opened between women, between cultures, and between innovative resource exchanges. Reciprocity exists, love is present, friendships are made, connection to spirit deepens and feminine leadership is empowered. We give voice to our inner-most knowings and desires and co-create a world based on spiritual values, love, generosity, kindness and compassion.
We decided we would create a 6-month pilot program beginning in February 2004. We recruited mentors from WOVA and mentees from SpiralMuse, each of whom filled out a questionnaire that helped us match them up.
In February 2004 we launched a 6-month pilot program for women living in the San Francisco Bay Area. A committee reviewed the applications and paired the partners based on the information provided in the application. An initial gathering was held where the mentees and the mentors met for the first time. After introductions, the group formed two circles: one for the mentees and one for the mentors for the purpose of exploring their hopes and fears about participating in the program. The two circles then came back together to share what they had learned.
Then the fun began. A name tag with a flower on it had been prepared for each participant . The mentees and mentors found their wisdom partners by matching the flowers on their name-tags. The wisdom partners were then given time to get to know one another and to fill out a Wisdom Agreement outlining how often they would meet, how the meetings would take place and what goals they hoped to accomplish.
Following this process, a candle-lighting ritual was held. All participants were given a personal candle. The mentors each lit their candle from the altar candle and in turn lit their mentee's candle saying, "It is my honor to share my light with you." The mentees responded, "And I reflect that light back to you as I in turn share my light with you."
The evening ended in a Sufi dance with the mentors in the outside circle and the mentees in the inside circle.
The program was structured to allow each wisdom partner to decide how often to meet.
An online forum and email list was made available to participants to share their stories, ask questions, and have discussions.
Each participant was also given a Wisdom Journal where they were asked to keep notes, insights, and goals. This journal was to be brought to each meeting between the mentor and mentee.
A second gathering was held in May where participants sat in circle and shared their stories with one another.
A final gathering was held in September at the end of the program.
Everyone involved in the program, both mentors and mentees, use the word "magical" to describe their experience.