Undergraduates help Boston’s teen girls set life goals

Francheska Castro knows the power of a good mentor. As a high school student in Boston, she relied on support from beyond her social circle when it came to academics, and later applying to college.

“I remember my grandmother being able to help me with my homework up until a certain age, and then my family didn’t know how to help anymore,” says Castro (’17, CAS’19), the first in her family to attend a four-year institution. “Mentorship was a pivotal point for me.”

Her friend Marissa Wu (’17, CAS’19, COM’19) had a different childhood—she’s from the San Francisco Bay Area, and her parents are college graduates—but she shares Castro’s belief in the importance of mentorship. She remembers connecting with older friends to guide her through the college application and selection process.

When the two became friends during a Boston University Dean’s Host event their senior year of high school, bonding over their excitement and uncertainty about the future, they wondered: what about girls who don’t have a support system?

Castro and Wu, now roommates, have founded an organization offering just that. The group, called LIME—Laugh, Inspire, Motivate, Encourage—matches girls in the Boston public high schools with young female mentors at BU to help them through major life decisions and moments. Castro and Wu launched LIME during their freshman year, debuting the mentoring program at Boston’s Urban Science Academy, which Castro attended.

“There’s a great need to be reassured that you’re not nothing, just because you’re not yet something. We want to help these girls figure out what their passion is, and take steps to reach that goal.”—Marissa Wu (’17, CAS’19, COM’19)

LIME, a student group at BU with a 12-person executive board, acts as a watchful older sibling to its participants. When school is in session, its mentors check in with their students by phone each week and schedule hang-out time once or twice a month to talk about academics, social lives, plans for the months ahead, and shared interests. A website fills the gap between conversations—and reaches a broader audience—with content that ranges from movie reviews to financial aid strategies. Wu, who’s president of the organization, stresses that LIME aims to help each girl find her own path.

“It’s not our job to restrict you, or tell you what you shouldn’t do,” she says. “There’s a great need to be reassured that you’re not nothing, just because you’re not yet something. We want to help these girls figure out what their passion is, and take steps to reach that goal. I know it’s difficult to be brave, find your passion, and stick with it when everyone seems to be thinking you should be going with the flow.”

By sharing personal stories on the blog, and discussing hopes and fears in one-on-one mentoring sessions, they’re determined to create a space that empowers young girls to set and achieve their goals.

Wu and Castro also used their contrasting backgrounds to craft a training manual that prepares LIME’s mentors for the possibility that their students may be facing circumstances they’ve never encountered. In some cases, says Castro, LIME’s head community coordinator, these could be as significant as homelessness (the manual advises that this information is private, but also has tips for what to do if a mentor is worried for a student’s safety). The training, which was developed with Stephanie Cafaro, BU’s program administrator for enrollment and student affairs, finishes with an informal quiz.

“It’s not so much right [and] wrong answers,” says Wu, “but seeing if they can take the information that we give them and apply it to different scenarios.”

Since launching the program, they’ve signed up 11 mentees. Wu says they hope to expand LIME into a new Boston-area high school every semester and already have 50 potential mentors interested in joining the team.

The Boston educators working with LIME say that its value lies in the firsthand experience the mentors bring, regardless of their differences in background. “When a high school senior is matched with a college senior, they are both going through a time of transition into adulthood,” says Siobhan Franco, a teacher at Urban Science Academy and LIME’s liaison at the school. “The differences they need to overcome together will depend on their level of education, but it can still be a shared struggle.”