Best Buy Teen Tech Center locations offer youth access to cutting-edge tech and opportunities to discover new passions. But most importantly, they’re safe spaces where teens can connect with mentors who are committed to guiding them to reach their full potential.
These mentors — both the Teen Tech Centers’ on-staff coordinators and dedicated volunteers, including many Best Buy employees — invest their time into young people. They work closely with teens on a variety of projects and serve as a sounding board to talk about their day-to-day activities or their passions and dreams.
We spoke with three Teen Tech Center mentors about their relationships with the teens and the impact of those connections.
“A good mentor is someone who wants to see other people succeed”
Mentorship was not the first thing on Saul Zelaya’s mind when he stumbled upon the Best Buy Teen Tech Center at the Kings Highway Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library in New York two years ago. No, he was in awe of the quality of tech available for the teens in the center.
“I was like, ‘Excuse me, I want to get in on this action,’” Saul said.
He had just begun studying digital media in college after completing a degree in English, an area he realized he wasn’t truly passionate about. And that’s his goal now: to show teens what types of careers are available and the different niches in various tech fields like coding or audio production.
“I want to expose teens to all this cool tech and gear and these college and career pathways,” Saul said. “The goal isn’t to make them something like a brilliant coder overnight, but to show them that this is a possible career for you if you’re into it.”
Saul leads the Career Pathways program at the center, which is sponsored by ERI. And he loves connecting with teens about their interests, cultures and even favorite foods.
“I’m not just a tech support or IT person,” Saul said. “I help them figure out their lives and what they want to do.”
Saul admits that’s sometimes harder than he originally expected. But he often thinks of the great mentors he’s had in his own life for inspiration and tries to adapt the curriculum to reach the teens where they’re at.
Ultimately, Saul said, building trust and assuring the teens you’re there to help is the most important part of his relationships at the center.
“A good mentor is someone who wants to see other people succeed,” Saul said. “You help people to be in a much better place than you were.”
“Mentorship makes a bigger impact than people realize”
Best Buy communications specialist Nadvia Davis knows the impact a mentor can have on someone’s life. In fact, she’s still in contact with her mentor from a Big Brothers Big Sisters program from more than 20 years ago.
“Mentorship makes a bigger impact than people realize,” Nadvia said.
One of the biggest lessons she’s learned from her own mentor is to not underestimate the value of volunteering your time.
Years ago, Nadvia needed a ride to her basketball game on a weekend, but she was nervous to ask her mentor because the request was outside their normal meeting hours and wasn’t related specifically to school or the mentorship program. Her mentor said yes without hesitation.
“That was a vivid memory that she took time out of her weekend for me,” Nadvia said.
Now, as an adult, Nadvia seeks to give back to her community. And she’s always reminded by her own mentor that if you can’t give money to causes, you can give your time.
That lesson is what inspired Nadvia to walk into the Best Buy Teen Tech Center at Brian Coyle Community Center in Minneapolis four years ago and ask the center’s coordinator how she could help.
“I just started showing up,” Nadvia said. “At first I was a one-time volunteer, and then it became a regular thing on Monday afternoons for an hour.”
Nadvia would help students with homework, learn about their interests and, sometimes, even troubleshoot the tech.
While Nadvia isn’t a tech expert, she knows just a physical presence in the center can make a difference for the teens, as well as the coordinators leading the center. Conversations that don’t seem important could mean a lot to teens who might not be able to talk about their dreams or goals at home.
“That’s a big part of it — building that trust with the teen. That’s important,” Nadvia said.
Since the start of the pandemic, she hasn’t been able to volunteer in person, but that hasn’t deterred Nadvia. She still helps coordinate virtual events for the teens and tries to be involved anyway she can.
“Mentorship means giving back to the community that generously gave to me, “Nadvia said. “It has to come full circle.”
“You can be a mentor just by being who you are”
Every day when Adam Pettway turns on the lights to the Best Buy Teen Tech Center at Wallace Community College in Selma, Alabama, he’s excited to feel that energy from the teens who come to the center.
“I really like the opportunity to work with youth in the middle school to high school level,” Adam said about his role as coordinator at the center, which is sponsored by the MJ 93-90 Foundation. “Anything we can do to help. That’s what drew me into this role.”
Adam sees his role and the center’s purpose as not just to provide career planning opportunities or let teens experiment with tech, but to provide a safe space for the youth. A place where they can relax, be themselves and spend time with people they trust. A place where they can feel confident in themselves and their abilities.
“Even if I can help one person feel more confident, that’s more than enough for me,” Adam said.
Adam wishes he had more confidence as a teen growing up and he loves watching youth evolve at the center, starting off more reserved to grow into a confident leader passing on advice to younger teens at the center.
“We really try to get teens to see that they can do more than what has always been done in their community or family,” Adam said. “They can be the change they want to see and then encourage the younger kids to do the same. Kids will listen to kids before they listen to adults anyway.”
While the word “mentor” can be intimidating and people may be unsure of how much they could help, Adam said anyone can be a mentor. It’s about tapping into your own strengths to be someone people will look up to and trust.
“You don’t have to have a master’s degree or be a leader in your community,” Adam said. You can be a mentor just by being who you are. Let things that make you, you shine.”
Want to learn more? Click here for more information about the Best Buy Teen Tech Center program.
Pictured above (left to right): Adam Pettway, Nadvia Davis and Saul Zelaya.