Serving as a mentor to young women is close to Joelsette Hernandez-Jones’ heart — because she knows what it’s like to grow up without one. “When I was growing up, I didn't have any mentors,” Joelsette shares. “I came from a broken, abusive family. My goal was to always help my mom with my sisters in any way I could.” So she jumped at the chance to volunteer as a mentor at Junior Achievement’s Future Women’s Leadership Forum (FWLF). “What I've accomplished, given all that I had gone through growing up . . . it captures my heart when I see these young women.”
After a decade in IT consulting, Joelsette founded her IT and engineering staffing firm Pharos Partners in 2014. And she’s in the process of building a second company — Pharos Solutions Inc., a construction management services firm. Particularly in her field, successful female role models can be hard to find. So when a friend invited her to volunteer as an FWLF mentor, she was excited to participate with an organization she knew to be one of the most impactful in Kansas City.
Future Women’s Leadership Forum pairs young women from high schools across the KC metro with professional female mentors for an impactful day of empowerment, mentorship and learning. “I feel like Junior Achievement creates this collaborative, safe place for these girls, that allows them to foster relationships, and integrate themselves in a room even when it’s hard to walk in a room at that age.”
Once she was assigned her mentee, Joelsette was ready to see what the day would bring. When she noticed her mentee was particularly shy, Joelsette encouraged her to talk with other girls and the pair soon made a group of friends. “It just created this very safe, collaborative space for them,” Joelsette shares. “There was this moment where she felt this level of comfort. She literally took a breath and just engaged. The next thing I know, we couldn't get her to stop talking.”
In only a few hours, Joelsette began to see her mentee transform. “By the end of the day, the mentees were exchanging numbers because they went to different schools,” Joelsette says. “They were taking selfies and laughing together. Even the mentors were laughing! This day brought us all together and we walked away with new friendships.”
One special moment for Joelsette was sharing her passion for construction with another mentee. “I shared that I’ve started a second company, Pharos Solutions Inc., that’s a construction management services firm and one of these girls came up to me and said that she loves construction,” Joelsette remarks. “She told me that her friends think that’s odd, for a woman to be interested in construction, so she reached out to me and asked if we could continue talking because she was in a space where there were not a lot of women.”
This connection from a day of mentorship evolved into so much more. “She and I continued connecting through several calls and texts,” Joelsette says. “One of her goals is to own her own construction management firm someday, so she was trying to learn everything she can asking me questions about how my business was going.”
“I encouraged her to not get discouraged if people don't understand why a young girl is interested in construction,” Joelsette shares. “I encouraged her to learn as much as she can about how to manage your own business.”
Connecting with a budding entrepreneur was a uniquely uplifting experience for Joelsette. “I loved the opportunity to show these girls that in 20 years, this is what you can accomplish,” Joelsette shares. “Having that opportunity to mentor is instrumental.”
Joelsette could see herself in the young women at the Future Women’s Leadership Forum. “I look like them,” Joelsette says. “They look like me. That fills my heart up. I loved seeing the diversity in the mentees and the mentors as well.”
What does a mentor get out of volunteering with Junior Achievement? “It is equally beneficial for the mentor as it is for the mentee,” Joelsette remarks. “It's so awesome to connect with all of these different women. I found that extremely inspiring. They have this energy level and this drive and this curiosity that just gave me so much energy.”
Becoming a mentor can be a truly uplifting experience. Volunteer role models guide Junior Achievement students, casting a vision for the future and showing them what it looks like to thrive as a professional — because every child deserves to believe in themselves, and to have the tools to do it.