Several years ago, as my last child was preparing for college, I felt myself bracing for a big change. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what life was going to look like, and I felt a strange sense of unfinishedness. It led me to explore ways that I could feel a renewed sense of purpose.
When I learned about the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Rochester mentoring program, I was intrigued enough to sign up for an orientation to learn more. By the end of the meeting, I was feeling their mission of creating and supporting one-to-one mentoring relationships taking hold. When I heard how many youths in our community were longing for a caring adult in their lives, I could feel a shift within me. Spending a few hours per month with a child seemed like an easy lift and could potentially make an impact. I followed up with a personal interview, references, orientation and a background screening. I was impressed by how important child safety was to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Rochester (BBBSR).
When the call came that they had made a “match” for me, I was genuinely excited.
One of the things I have come to know and appreciate about the program is that there is a team of match coordinators who convene to discuss the available mentors (Bigs) and prospective mentees (Littles). They talk through each of their hobbies, interests, and personalities to ensure a strong match is made, ensuring its longevity.
I came through the BBBS doors for my match meeting to find a delightful, sweet and curious 7-year-old, named Jess, sitting beside her mom. We all chatted for a bit, and then the team gave me and Jess some time alone to discover that we shared a love of puppies, chicken fingers and baking. We both responded with an enthusiastic yes, when asked if we wanted to be matched together.
Jess and I met a few times a month and happily filled our time together with lots of activities: go carting, ballgames, rollercoasters, the zoo and more. We were both having a blast racing from one thing to the next. As the months went on, Jess began asking if we could go to my house instead of the activity du jour.
Surely she didn’t think making a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch would be as interesting as miniature golf?
In fact, Jess was starting to show a strong preference for this slower pace: playing cards, doodling with sidewalk chalk, and walking my dog together.
It turns out this is what she was craving all along: uninterrupted time that allows for more meaningful face-to-face conversations. I was so busy filling our time, I missed the message. Over the following years, I learned more about Jess’ joys, her heartaches, and her dreams sitting on the porch over a glass of lemonade than I ever had on a rollercoaster. Jess was teaching me the value of a simple ordinary day. The impact was profound.
Were our roles changing? If often felt as though she were mentoring me.
A few years into being matched with Jess, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Rochester invited me to join their organization in a different capacity. In addition to being Jess’ Big Sister, as Development Officer I now have the opportunity to raise awareness and resources in our community so that more children can benefit from being matched with a mentor.
In many ways, it felt like coming home.
At Big Brothers Big Sisters, statistics show that having a caring adult mentor in your life boosts a child’s school attendance, reduces risky behavior and improves their self-esteem. In fact, when a youth eligible to graduate high school is mentored through our BBBS program, their graduation rate soars to 100%.
When we mentor a child who learns to believe in themselves, the reverberations are felt beyond that one experience. They begin to see a future above their current circumstance.
Right now, there are nearly 400 youths in our community waiting and hoping to be matched with a mentor.
It takes $1,500 to create and support a mentoring match for the first year, compared to the $150,000 cost of a child entering the juvenile justice system. From the first orientation, interview, background screening, match meeting, and ongoing agency support, it is truly an investment in not just the child, but our community.
Imagine if our community came together with a collective energy to get these children and others like them matched and mentored? More youth would be graduating, exploring careers, and entering the workforce — making an impact of their own.
Long before I became a Big Sister, the quote below was a favorite of mine. Now, being a part of BBBSR, the meaning has never been clearer.
“One life stamps and influences another, which in turn stamps and influences another, on and on, until the soul of human experience breathes on in generations we’ll never meet.”
Dorothy Howe Kelley is the Development Officer at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Rochester, and has been connected to her Little Sister “Jess” for over 12 years now. To learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Rochester, contact Dorothy at [email protected] or go to www.beabig.org.
If you are interested in telling your story in a future Mentoring Matters column, please email Dorothy at [email protected].