April 7, 2017 Greenfield Recorder
Have you had mentors at some point in your life? How did they impact you? Did they listen to you, support your dreams, encourage you to work harder? Did they build your confidence or help you change your entire trajectory?
Research shows that having a mentor positively impacts a child’s life. To most that is not a radical finding, it makes sense if you give it some reflection. But what exactly is so powerful about having someone to look up to?
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County, and I am honored to be a part of the celebration. During my time here I’ve witnessed many thoughtfully planted seeds of compassion blossom into something beautiful for a struggling child. I’ve seen the “above and beyond” type of kindness help build a whole new world of self-worth. I’ve seen a volunteer put great thought into how to support their “little” through something difficult and I’ve seen forever bonds created. However, it’s one of the simplest acts that still surprises me more than any other; the act of just showing up.
As the program supervisor part of my job is to enroll and train volunteers, I ask applicants to tell me about their mentors. I ask them to think about what specifically these individuals did that showed them they were loved, supported and important. How did they show they cared? The most common answer by far is that they consistently showed up. That’s it. Mentoring isn’t about spending money or being perfect in your own life. It’s about consistently showing up for someone you care about. Volunteers often surprise themselves when they realize how emotional they feel describing the impact a mentor had on their life as they reflect on why they want to pay that forward. The psychology behind it all is complex and involved, but the bottom line is pretty basic. People feel more secure in themselves and the world they are navigating when they have someone to count on, trust in and look up to. In fact, it can be life changing. It is life changing, because mentoring works.
Maya Angelou once said, “In order to be a mentor, and an effective one, one must care. You must care. You don’t have to know how many square miles are in Idaho, you don’t need to know what is the chemical makeup of chemistry, or of blood or water. Know what you know and care about the person.”
From the child who beamed with pride because her Big Sister was coming to her school play, to the boy who was giddy because of all the little things he had in common with his new Big Brother, to the siblings whose school attendance dramatically improved because attendance was tied to the BBBS after school program. I hear these types of stories every day and I know I’m helping make a difference.
I deeply believe in this work. I preach it, I advocate for it, I value it. But it wasn’t until very recently, when someone finally asked me those same questions, that I realized I live it too. I’ve had a few mentors at different points in my life, but the greatest impact for me has been my Dad. I didn’t get to spend as much time with him while growing up as I wanted to, but his mentoring still had a profound effect on me. Watching my Dad navigate the world has helped shape me into who I am today. He is a helper, a motivator and a man of his word. His grounded attitude, his powerful work ethic and his deep respect of others are parts of my Dad I truly admire. As a teenager, I often loved his frequent words of wisdom; “All things in moderation.” “Keep your nose to the grindstone.” “You can be anything you want, you just have to work for it” and the always helpful “Nothing good happens after midnight” were among my favorites.
Now that I am a parent, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to help my boys be their best selves. I worry about how they will navigate the world and what support they will have along the way. Once in a while, when I find myself in a teachable moment, I notice that I sound a bit like my Dad, and I feel hopeful, even proud. And then I remember every child deserves to feel hopeful and proud. Every child deserves to feel important and cared about. And every child deserves to have someone consistently show up for them. This is what Big Brothers Big Sisters strives to give to as many children as possible, and we cannot do it alone. Mentoring is a community effort. We love what we do and we love the community we belong to because, frankly, there’s so much caring in this community. Franklin County has spent the last 50 years role modeling its commitment to its youth by generously supporting agencies like Big Brothers Big Sisters and we are so grateful for that support. I can only hope we are still here in another 50 years, continuing to provide children in our community with consistent, loving supportive mentors. Because mentoring works.
Jennifer Webster is the program services supervisor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County.