By Julie Dodd
JEA Mentoring Committee co-chair

When we developed the concept of the JEA Mentoring Program five years ago, we envisioned that each state participating in the program would have at least two participating mentors. Our thought was that having at least two mentors from the same state would foster teamwork.

JEA mentors, mission in Santa Barbara

Alabama mentors (left to right) Jo Ann Hagood, Marie Parsons and Nora Stephens visited a mission in Santa Barbara as part of a road trip on Highway 101 after the JEA/NSPA convention in Anaheim.

Alabama mentors Jo Ann Hagood, Marie Parsons and Nora Stephens share the story of how they have become a team — and friends.

Marie Parsons

I didn’t dream in 1984, when I was a 40-something University of Alabama grad student coordinating Alabama Scholastic Press Association, that I would connect 25 years later with two of the state association’s young advisers. Nora and Jo Ann were already experienced in scholastic journalism. My expertise was in professional journalism and academia. We were part of a team that restructured the state organization to serve beginning, intermediate and advanced advisers and students.

When Meredith Cummings, current director of ASPA, asked me in 2010 if I would become a JEA mentor and recruit one other, I immediately thought of Jo Ann and Nora, though we had been out of touch for years. Both accepted, and we became the first state to sponsor three mentors. Now we teach sessions and room together at JEA conventions.

As mentoring colleagues, we complement each other with their classroom experience and my University and professional-media connections. We’re a good team and have become fast friends.

Nora Stephens

In late May, Marie and I were able to spend several days at Jo Ann’s beach condo with Jo Ann. We had a chance to reflect on our three years in the mentoring program and to plan for next year, including our session for the JEA/NSPA convention in San Antonio in November. Jo Ann and I brought Marie up to date on our trip to the Seattle convention as well.

One morning we read Rick Bragg’s latest essay in Southern Living on “The Gift of Loafering,” and Marie sent him an email from the three of us. Back home days later, as I was finishing my end-of-the-year mentoring report, Marie forwarded his response assuring us that he would continue writing until he died — perfect timing!

Jo Ann Hagood

Marie was surprised when I volunteered to help her at the Alabama Scholastic Press Association’s spring convention in Tuscaloosa in 2008 after I retired from teaching.  She should not have been. Scholastic journalism has always been my first love. When she called me about the JEA Mentoring Program, I eagerly agreed to join.  While Nora and Marie reside in Alabama’s major cities of Huntsville and Tuscaloosa, I am the one from LA:  lower Alabama, where journalism is not high on the list of priorities for most schools. Helping to keep student publications going in my area of the state has been a major goal, one that I hope to accomplish by mentoring.

Fortunately, Marie, Nora, and I have become close friends as well as fellow mentors.  When Marie suggested we travel after the Anaheim convention, we took off like Thelma and Louise, driving up the coast of California, where I saw the Pacific Ocean and California for the first time. We toured the Hearst Castle, saw how close Alcatraz is to Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf and viewed the Golden Gate Bridge – amazing sights for this south Alabama girl.

Although the three of us had planned our Anaheim session for new advisers by email and Nora and I had planned our Seattle presentation also by email, we agreed that we would meet to work on a new editing presentation for next fall. Finding time that all of us could be available was not an easy task, but finally Nora and Marie traveled to my condo in Destin, Fla., where we planned our presentation for San Antonio, discussed recruiting new mentees for next year, and advised each other on how to deal with mentoring issues. Perhaps the most fun of all, we sat on the sandy white beach and watched the sun set on the crystal aqua waters of the Gulf of Mexico as we talked about our lives and our families, laughed and bonded, forming friendships that will last long after our mentoring days are over.