January is National Mentoring Month.
Joseph N. Schaller, Esquire
I was active in the Young Leadership program through THE ASSOCIATED, and, as part of that program, had an opportunity to pick a board to observe. I was drawn to the Big Brother board. Their mission matched many of my interests. I had been a teacher, coach, camp counselor and was not yet a father. While that is my personal story, none of those facts are criteria to be a Big Brother. I was soon invited to become a board member and served on the board for several years. In 2008, the Jewish Big Brother Big Sister program became part of Jewish Community Services’ Volunteer Services.
I realized that I was drawn to the board because of the needs of the boys and felt that I would actually be of more service to someone as a Big Brother than a board member. I went through the application process and was soon matched with a great Little Brother. He was not quite 6 at the time. He was smart, athletic and happy to try any adventure with me.
“Bigs” are asked to get together twice a month with their “Littles.” In the beginning, we spent a lot more time together than that, but that is up to the individuals. Like all relationships, we looked for common ground when we first started getting together. There is an enormous amount of flexibility for activities. The match coordinators are always providing suggestions, group activities, and coupons for events and activities, or you can make your own plans. There are certainly plenty of things that you can do with little or no expense. My “Little” loved the movies, going out for pizza, playing sports or just sitting in my house playing video games. It was not so important what we did. It was just about enjoying spending time together. We would typically get together for 2-4 hours at a time.
It became obvious to me right away that this was as much a learning experience for me as it was for my “Little.” I had not driven a child in the back of my car at that point in my life, nor had other experiences familiar to people who were already parents. There were also some issues that were completely normal, but forced me to examine my values in ways that I had not previously. My “Little” laughs at this story now. We went bowling as one of our first activities. He became frustrated and lay down in the alley and cried. Of course, he was young, but it forced me to articulate for myself and then for him when crying was appropriate. It worked out beautifully and was just one of countless shared growth experiences.
My original one-year match with a first grader turned into a match that just officially ended with his graduation from high school, which I attended. He has grown from a great kid to a wonderful young man who is off to college in the fall. It was natural and wonderful that we stayed together (although it is perfectly acceptable if a match is of limited duration) and I feel that I am as much a part of his family as he is of mine.
JCS works hard to make matches work. In fact, my match changed my life in many more ways than expected. I met my wife and future step-sons while coaching my “Little” in lacrosse. Good things come from good things. My eldest step-son is the same age as my “Little” and the next eldest is 2 years younger. My “Little” immediately became part of the family. My wife and I soon had a daughter who is now 7 and she and my “Little” adore each other.
It is important to do things that are bigger than ourselves, and nothing seems bigger than creating a relationship that benefits another. The fact that it benefits you as a Big Brother is just a bonus. Like all relationships there are joys and there are challenges, but working through challenges is also ultimately a joy. Mentoring a young person is both a critical job and a blessing and I would recommend it to anyone with some time to spare. It really is not about the activities or major events. It is really about simply being there for someone else.
Joseph N. Schaller, Esquire
Whiteford, Taylor & Preston L.L.P.
Right now there are children in our community who need a special friend and mentor. If you’d like to learn more about becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister through Jewish Community Services, please call 410-466-9200. Getting together with your “Little” twice a month is all it takes, and JCS provides training and support.