By Bracha Goetz, MA
You probably don’t even have to close your eyes, to conjure up the image of someone who served as a wonderful role model at an important point in your life. Nearly everyone has had an encouraging mentor at some time, who has made a really positive impact. These special people usually come into our lives in the natural course of events (a family member, a teacher, a youth group leader), but sometimes a bit of orchestration is needed to make it happen.
In my work with the Jewish Big Brother Big Sister Program, I get to check in regularly with wonderful volunteer mentors who have been matched with children and teens in our community Recently a Big Brother shared with me this conversation with his “Little,” which demonstrates the essence of a great mentoring relationship.
“Last night, we were driving back from doing errands together. Amazing, it’s been almost three years now since I became Dan’s* Big Brother. So we started talking about Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur coming up and how no one should take anything for granted. Like each year we ask God for a new lease on our lives, and if we’re not worthy, and don’t improve ourselves each year, we may not even get renewed.”
“Dan turned to me then, and he said, ‘It’s because of you that I’m alive.’ I just stared at him and said, ‘What?’ ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘You said that if we don’t get better each year, we may not get another year, and …well…thanks to you…I’ve become a better person. I don’t curse as much… I respect my parents more… I stopped doing other stuff, too… So really, it’s thanks to you, I’m alive.’”
*(The name has been changed.)
It is rare for a Little Brother to be that expressive about the impact that his Big Brother has had on him – especially right in front of the mentor! What’s not unusual, however, is for a mentor to have an impact that strong and meaningful on his mentee. There are so many stories of wondrous changes that come about through the efforts of devoted volunteers who are willing to spend just a few hours each month with a young person. Some may be playing basketball or baking challah; others meet each week just to schmooze and share a pizza. But there is one thing they are all doing on a regular basis. Each of them is role modeling for his or her Little Brother or Sister what it means to be a mensch.
Over time, mentors get to share their wisdom, skills, and experience. But most of all, they learn to listen a lot, provide encouragement and savor simple joys. They focus on their mentee’s strengths, building them steadily. And mentors, although still flawed and striving themselves, are willing to open themselves up to another’s gaze.
Most mentors can recall the vital impact that encouraging adults had on their lives. Unable to repay those people from the past, who may now be gone, they want to pass on that priceless gift to another. A medieval Jewish proverb beautifully explains the power behind this special relationship: “What comes from the heart, enters the heart.”
One person at a time, week after week, mentors are strengthening our communities. The truth is, everybody needs a mentor with exemplary integrity – whether it’s to learn how to refine one’s parenting skills, develop spiritually, or progress in one’s career. Whether we are young, or still young at heart and yearning to grow in certain ways, all of us can benefit from having a mentor – and from being one!
By Bracha Goetz, MA, Volunteer Coordinator, Jewish Big Brother Big Sister Program, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
To learn more about how JCS can help you solve life’s puzzles, visit www.jcsbaltimore.org or call 410-466-9200. Jewish Community Services is an agency of THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.