by Andrew Stilwell
1. the guidance provided by a mentor, especially an experienced person in a company or educational institution.
For Carolina alumna Anna Hunter, mentorship has been a constant in life. A Morehead-Cain scholar and a UNC Cross Country runner under coaches Andrew Alden and Joan Nesbitt, the 1996 graduate has continued to give back to her local communities as a mentor to young people since leaving school.
After a move to Atlanta, Hunter started a chapter of Girls on The Run, an after-school program designed to inspire girls of all abilities to recognize and embrace their inner strength. She was inspired to do so by Molly Barker, a fellow UNC alumna, who started Girls on the Run International. Coincidentally, she was also Hunter’s running coach in high school.
“I reached out to Molly and said, ‘There’s not a Girls on the Run in Atlanta. Can I start one here?’” Hunter recalled. “It combined my love of sport and my love of being with young people and walking with them in those impressionable years of their lives.
“When I realized [Girls on the Run] wasn’t in Atlanta, I knew there was so much opportunity,” she continued. “The dream was to be in all parts of the city. We started at a public school, an independent school and community center, and tried to maintain that balance throughout. I just loved those years with those girls.”
Relocating from Atlanta to Chattanooga, Hunter continued to mentor young women – this time with college student-athletes who were babysitting her young children.
“Our babysitters were from Covenant College, a small school in Chattanooga,” she recalled. “Interestingly enough, they were all student-athletes. We grew to just love them. They would babysit, and then they would just linger. They would stay for dinner. We just grew to love our time with college students. We realized as a family that we loved having conversations with them, hearing their dreams, hearing their passions, knowing what their questions are and how they’re trying to get there.” In 2016, Hunter and her family moved “back home” to Chapel Hill, where she continued mentoring college students through a number of avenues.
“It was an easy decision, coming home to a place that we all loved so dearly, and continuing to have that love of spending time with college students,” Hunter said. “As we started to settle in, I got involved with the North Carolina Study Center and lead a handful of groups there. I spent a lot of time with college students.”
In 2019, Hunter learned about the FORevHER Tar Heels initiative – a program that champions Carolina’s women student-athletes through financial support and a mentoring program – and saw the connection between her passion for mentoring and her love of the Tar Heels and Carolina Athletics.
“When Lea [Fenske] reached out about starting the FORevHER Tar Heels mentoring program, we sat over breakfast one day and talked through a number of things needed,” Hunter recalled. “Being able to bridge that love of sport and the love of mentoring college students has been incredible. It’s truly great knowing that when they invite you into their lives and into their story, it’s a real gift.”
While the student-athletes benefit from having a mentor like Hunter, the match with several student-athletes has been equally as rewarding for her.
“I’m incredibly encouraged by this generation of students,” Hunter said. “That’s certainly demonstrated by the storm they’ve had to weather in the past year. I’m impressed with how earnest and thoughtful they are, how much they look at the world and really try to figure out where the things they care about meet. There’s a great sense of gratitude there, and that’s something I’ve really taken from the experience.”
“FORevHER Tar Heels focuses on making the student-athlete experience the best experience in the country for our female student-athletes,” said Lea Fenske, a Major Gifts Director with The Rams Club and the primary coordinator of the initiative. “Any gift in support of these impressive young women is an incredible investment in their future. Equally incredible is the impact that mentors, like Anna, make on our student-athletes, helping them grow as future leaders. Carolina is fortunate to have so many accomplished women who want be a source of support for these young women.”
When asked if she wished a similar mentorship program to FORevHER Tar Heels existed when she was a student-athlete, Hunter answered with a resounding “absolutely!”
“There were certainly adults I could reach out to, but I don’t know that there were such formal mentoring programs where you really had a lead or permission to reach to those older than you,” she recalled. “Those intergenerational relationships, even something as simple as someone reaching out and saying, ‘Hang in there, you’ve got this,” to career networking or walking through an issue or problem that they just need someone a little older. There are times that we might not have the exact answer, but we have the life experience that they’re looking for.”
Hunter has no plans to stop mentoring through FORevHER Tar Heels and wants to help the next generation succeed like her mentors before her.
“FORevHER Tar Heels has created a thoughtful program to support student-athletes,” she said. “For alumni, or as former student-athletes, or as women, who all care about college students in the Carolina community, it’s an opportunity for us to get to know some phenomenal, younger individuals and to simply to share our own life experiences. We can share those, encourage the student athletes, and really be a listening ear. They are successful in the sport, often successful in school, and they want to be known as people. That is our great opportunity to really get to know who they are.”
You can help Carolina’s female student-athletes as well through The Rams Club’s FORevHER Tar Heels initiative. For more information on the programs you can support, click here.
The impact of giving comes through in wonderful stories about Carolina student-athletes and coaches, as well as the donors who make their opportunities possible. Learn more about the life-changing impact you can have on a fellow Tar Heel through one of the features included here: