Scholar Finds Perfect Match with Her Mentor

Sometimes, relationships just click. That’s how it’s been from the start for Alray Scholar and Bunker Hill Community College student Charita Parham (L) and her Alray mentor, Alexa Rentas (R). In the late summer of 2012, when mentoring chair Jack O’Brien introduced them over coffee, the two women instantly hit it off. As Alexa recalls, after a while Jack sensed that the connection between her and Charita was so strong that he excused himself, saying, “I don’t think I’m needed here!” Over their last year-plus working together, their connection has only grown stronger, to the point where they now sometimes finish each other’s sentences.

Charita: I’m pretty autonomous so I think that can frustrate a lot of mentors that need to be hands on. But Alexa’s really not like that.
Alexa: She inspires me more! I call her “Wonder Woman”! The second time we met, you were coming from one of your work-out sessions, and you had your planner out. And you had two or three jobs. And I’m like, “OK, I don’t know who’s mentoring who because this woman is a mother of two young children, and she has all these task lists and she’s crossing it out, and she’s getting it done, and I mean, she’s inspiring to me.”
Charita: It was really good for me because Alexa works in the legal industry (like me). And I think networking-wise, it’s inspiring because she understands the field, but also she’s been a single mother, she’s also had to study, and manage different things.
Alexa: My sons are grown – one is in college and the other one is 27. I look at her and I’m like OK, this woman is getting all these things done now. I can get more things done. I’m trying to keep up with Charita!

Being named an Alray Scholar last year allowed Charita, who had been taking one or two classes each semester, to increase her course load significantly.

Charita: It had been very easy to keep my GPA high with straight A’s, but the last semester was very hard because I’m taking four classes now. And it was just difficult to balance all of it. And I need my two jobs, I still have two kids, and me and my husband are separated. So it’s been a learning experience. When you get a scholarship like this, I think you are held to a higher standard. There’s more people expecting a lot out of you. And so you don’t want the foundation to look bad. You don’t want to look bad, obviously, but there’s other people that are looking as well, so, you know, it’s a different kind of responsibility.
Alexa: I feel like you’re this extended family member. I’m like, “Whoa, this woman wants to be a judge, she wants to travel here, she wants to do this, she wants to be part of this.” So I think she’s an asset to the Alray foundation, because you want to see how she’s going to excel. She’s gonna do it.
Charita: Awww.
Alexa: When I said I was going to mentor someone, I thought, OK, I’m going to have to hold this person’s hand. But Charita, you’re getting it done. Sometimes I think what you need is not someone hovering over you but someone to let you know that when things are tough, I’ve got your back.
Charita: The Alray organization is so different. A lot of scholarship programs are really hands off and bureaucratic, just people looking to pat themselves on the back. But with Alray, it was clear from the start that they were going to be very involved in my studies.
Alexa: I do think the Alray foundation is like that. You go to the Christmas party and it’s like a family reunion.
Charita: I liked that at the Christmas party there were two people that did not graduate, and they weren’t made to feel like they shouldn’t be there. It was kind of like, “When are you going to go back?”
Alexa: And how can we help you?
Charita: Nobody was disappointed. It was just a good feeling of “whenever you’re ready to jump back in, we’re here.” So it was really good.
Alexa: In the Alray program, there are so many other people behind the scenes helping out. With mentoring, you’re sharing your life experience. This person’s kind of looking to you to say ‘hey, do you know where I’m stumbling? What do you think? I just need someone to sit there and listen to me, help me out with this.” I think that’s kind of the role that I have.

Charita completed her Associate’s degree at Bunker Hill at the end of 2013 and is continuing her studies at Northeastern. Alexa plans to continue mentoring her.

Photo by Alice Kathryn Richardson.