Kandice Graves & Brenda Shuttlesworth

January is Mentoring Month! The Greater Waco Chamber is proud to offer mentorship programs that strengthen the connection between business and education. One of these programs is the Leadership, Education and Development (LEAD) program.

The LEAD program is a business and education partnership that pairs high school students from participating schools with business leaders to foster mentoring relationships that educate and expose students to various business fields. By improving the students’ knowledge of higher education and potential career paths, they expand their goals for their future. Through this program, the Greater Waco Chamber hopes to motivate these students to graduate high school and pursue higher education, which in turn ensures greater employability and quality of life.

Kandice & Brenda at Kandice’s graduation from Sam Houston State University in 2022.

Kandice Graves graduated from La Vega High School in 2018 and graduated from Sam Houston State University in 2022. During her high school career, Kandice participated in the LEAD program for three years with her mentor Brenda Shuttlesworth.

Here’s what Kandice has to say about her experience in the LEAD program:

I was given the honor to join the LEAD program; it changed my life for the greater good. I had the chance to meet a wonderful person, who has watched me grow from a kid, who just had dreams, until now, as I pursue my career as an investigator with the Department of Family Protective Services. She has never left my side and I am able to count on her to be there for me, like a second mother. She is a wise woman who motivates me, laughs with me, and sheds a few tears with me. I am proud to call Mrs. Brenda Shuttlesworth not only my mentor but my family friend.

Here’s what Brenda has to say about her experience mentoring Kandice:

Reflecting upon my time volunteering with the Waco Chamber of Commerce LEAD Program, I think about my invitation to serve. Having completed Leadership Waco, Rachel Martinez reached out to me and asked if I would mentor high school students. My condition: I will only engage at La Vega High School. Wouldn’t you know it: La Vega joined the program the same year I was asked to serve! My “only La Vega” caveat was due to the fact that my father attended La Vega ISD and dropped out of high school. My dad was a brilliant man and a mentor may have kept him in school. Choosing to serve as a mentor has changed my life.

Mentor comes to us from the ancient Greek poem, The Odyssey by Homer. Odysseus chose a trusted friend, Mentor, to educate his young son while he was away at war. Mentor coached and instructed young Telemachus in ways that prepared him to successfully rule, following his father. As I think about the LEAD Program, the words leadership, education, and development couple nicely with trust and coaching to make this program successful.

I first met Kandice Graves when she joined my existing group for a tour at Baylor University about halfway through the school year. Relationships had been formed between mentees and mentor, but Kandice boldly joined us on that brisk winter day. She said she wanted a mentor and knew the LEAD program would help her succeed. She was a perfect fit for our group and following that tour, we said we were keeping her and she was keeping us! From that point forward, deep and lasting relationships formed, not only with Kandice, but also with her family.

When I first met Kandice, she talked about her dreams for a career in criminal justice and plans to attend Sam Houston State University, like her mother and aunties. To achieve that dream, she had to overcome academic challenges and assure she maximized financial assistance. Through her participation in countless business tours, she made an impact with leaders across our community. She earned a significant scholarship through her LEAD participation and that scholarship allowed her to apply for other financial gifts throughout her tenure at Sam Houston State University.

When I think about Kandice, I always think of her parents in the same breath. Having a strong support system makes those difficult days a little easier. Kandice and her mom, Kayla, remain dear to me. Kayla pushes as only a mother can, and gives me insight into what type of coaching may be best with Kandice at any given time. We’re a team and we all push to help Team Kandice succeed. Kandice persevered through her years at Sam Houston State University, even when financial hardships arose. She also lost her beloved brother during her college years. Yet, she kept pushing toward her goal. She worked hard every summer through high school and continued to work to help support her educational efforts through college. Ultimately, Kandice graduated in May 2022 with her bachelor’s degree from Sam Houston State University.

I cheered loudly with her family as they announced her name. I’m so proud of Kandice and can hardly wait to see the difference she makes in this world. As she starts her professional career with CPS, I think about the impact she will have in the lives of so many children and their families. She will advocate for those individuals in our society that sometimes need a little help. Her compassion is infectious and her determination dogged. I know one thing for certain, I will remain in contact with Kandice and her parents for years to come. They are imprinted on my heart. I will always make time to help any one of them with any challenge or opportunity that poses itself.

If anyone wants to know why mentoring is so important, I think it boils down to just one thing, relationships. Life is relationships. We learn from each other. We trust enough to share the good times and the darkest of days. We challenge each other to risk and grow. We learn together and take life one day at a time. Some days, we soar like eagles. Other days we run the race set before us. Sometimes, we walk the path and feel like we may faint. When life is at its hardest, do what the late great Coach Pat Summitt told countless students when they thought they couldn’t, “Right foot, left foot, breathe, repeat.” Regardless, we keep going: persevere. Reach for the goals you set and be sure you have folks with you on your journey. 

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