Growing up without a father figure, Director of Operations Paul Holguin is passionate about ensuring that no child should have to face life’s challenges alone. This devotion has led to what has become over eight years of service and more than 150 hours dedicated to mentoring Austin’s at-risk youth. His unique perspective has been a valuable asset to the Round Rock Independent School District’s STARS Mentor Program for the past three years, and hopefully many more to come.
A father of two, Paul began his mentor work at his daughter’s school with Watch D.O.G.S., a program focused on providing positive male role models and affording teachers an extra set of eyes as a bully deterrent. However, as the students phased out of elementary school, Paul began to notice a growing gap between the organization’s volunteer dads and the student body.
“The program works really well in elementary schools, but as the kids get older they aren’t as interested,” says Paul. “Even the coordinators would say, ‘you were a superstar in kindergarten through fifth grade, but now you’re moving into middle school and it’s not going to be all high fives anymore.’”
As Paul watched many students transition out of elementary school, he began to feel as though he wasn’t making enough of an impact. Knowing Paul’s feelings and how valuable he was as a mentor, one of the school’s counselors suggested he look into the STARS Mentor Program. Joining this initiative has given Paul the opportunity to bond individually with students and truly be the role model they not only need, but desire. As a mentor, Paul will frequently go out of his way to make each teen feel important. One example that comes to mind involves spending numerous hours attempting to learn chess.
“I had one student that was a chess whiz, so I would try to teach myself chess on my lunch break,” Paul says. “Then we would go to the library, check out a chessboard and I would do my best to win. It didn’t matter what I did though, he would always beat me. But it made him happy, so I was happy to do it.”
These small gestures, accompanied by many others, often went a long way in building strong relationships. In fact, Paul’s ability to connect with students while remaining resilient through setbacks also earned him recognition from the school district as McNeil High School’s 2014 Mentor of the Year. While this commendation is significant, it is clear to anyone who knows Paul that he is not involved in the program for any praise, and he often insists that he gets more out of the program than he gives.
Part of the mentoring agreement prevents Paul from keeping in contact with students after their time together has ended, but he’s seen lots of positive signs of a successful mentorship – improved communication skills, turning a C into an A, and improved attendance are all significant motivators. However, Paul doesn’t hesitate to pinpoint the best inspiration of all. “My greatest motivation,” he nodded, “is simply seeing the student succeed.”