Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Being A Mentor: My Experience As A "Big Brother" with Big Brothers Big Sisters

Joshland Note: As you read this post you might start wondering "Why there are no pictures of my "Little Brother" and why don't I mention his name on here?" An important part of the Big Brother Big Sister Program is following the "online safety guidelines" that have been set to protect privacy issues of both parties. As his mentor, I feel there are a lot of things about my life that he doesn't need to know quite yet. My "Little" does know about my cystic fibrosis. We talk about it when he asks, but rarely do we go into detail because our relationship is supposed to be focused on him. Just the fact that he asks about me warms my heart. It shows how great he is and makes me that much more dedicated to helping him succeed far past anything I've ever achieved. I'm a "Big Brother", that's my job. ;-)

There are many reasons why I decided to be a "Big Brother" mentor for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program:

For one, if my wife and I decide not to have children, then a small part of my appetite for fatherhood will be satiated by working with this young man. No, it's not the same as being a dad, but it has more similarities than you might realize.

Another reason; what other volunteer program allows you to act like a kid on purpose?! We're always doing something fun like going to the zoo, flying kites, playing video games, or building model rockets and cars. BBBS also provides so much to do without asking for much in return other than being a positive role model and a little donation here and there. Fun activities like free or discounted tickets to sporting events, museums and the like, and the huge end-of-summer BBQ for Bigs and Littles for minimal or no cost to you thanks to generous donations from local businesses and philanthropic individuals.

Furthermore, I realized that if I wanted the world to be a better place, I had to make the effort myself. Mahatma Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Well, I want young people to know that they can set goals and achieve them, so I thought mentoring one child was a good place to start. Big Brothers Big Sisters (and mentoring in general) isn't about "saving" children from their lives. It's about helping them see their potential and rebuilding the confidence and trust they had that, in many cases, was shattered by another adult who they believed in. It's not about the stereotyped "at risk" youth either. There are children in Big Brothers Big Sisters from all walks of life. Some "Littles" are children who supposedly have an "ideal life", but somehow lost their way or are looking for someone to help guide them back on track. Being a mentor is a powerful tool that volunteers can use to help any young person who needs them and in the process strengthen the future of our world.

Which brings me to my main reason for becoming a mentor: I wanted to fulfill a promise I made. This might come as a surprise to my family, but there was a time in my life when I wanted someone outside of my regular circle of loved ones to talk to. Someone who didn't know about my sister's death, or cystic fibrosis, or the other things that overshadowed my teenage years. That's when I asked to be someone's "Little Brother". My Big was a great man and though we didn't have a lot in common, we enjoyed our time together. (In fact, we still have breakfast every once in a while just to catch up.) Our mentoring friendship changed the course of my life. It warmed my heart that a complete stranger cared enough about me to share his precious time. When our match ended I promised him when I was ready I would happily pay forward the gift that he gave to me. So here I am.

Mentoring has pushed me beyond the borders of my own world. Much like my friend Stacey who uses her chosen profession as a social worker and her life experience as a CFer to provide comfort to pediatric cancer patients (click here to read Stacey's awesome story on her blog), I've learned that the world is so much bigger than my little corner of it. And unless I've been through something myself, I don't know what it's like. Those lessons have made me a better man.

In addition to being a "Big Brother", I occasionally volunteer to speak as a "Big Brother Speaker" and share my "Match Story" with potential volunteers in my community during a very casual and inviting orientation to the program. This is a short video that shares a little bit of that presentation.

My whole experience as a "Big" has been a pretty positive thing. We've done a lot of activities and had a lot of wonderful moments. Don't get me wrong, we've certainly had our share of ups and downs, but like both of my grandfathers always told me: Nothing worth doing is ever easy. One of my core beliefs is that time is far more valuable than money. I can't think of a better example of that than Big Brothers Big Sisters. My "Little" has grown to be a great young man. I hope I've made as big of an impact on him as he has on me.

Click on the link below find a Big Brothers Big Sisters organization in your area to volunteer or donate to, then watch the video created BBBS of the Greater Twin Cities.

Big Brothers Big Sisters Official Website

Peaceful and Future Building Things,

"Big Brother" Josh


  1. Awe, thanks! Great post... If I was a "Little" I would want you for my "Big"!

  2. You have always had an innate wisdom about your life, Josh, especially after Angie died. So even though we waited a long time for your "Big" to come along, he brought that extra sense of encouragement and compassion into your world that your heart was looking for. He was so proud of you when you graduated High School, even though that ended your official time together. I love that he has seen you earn your Bachelor's degree and be happily married, and your many successes in life. I really believe you brought equally as much to him, and I am proud of how you pay everything forward.

    Love,Mom xoxox

  3. aw love your shirt! We mentored for kids in college through a local was so much fun..they came over to our house and played dress up all afternoon one was so much fun being a kid again!

  4. You're making the world a better place, Josh. Well done.

  5. For the past 7 years I have mentored struggling high school kids and the rewards are awesome! A person never really knows the extent of influence one has on another person. Knowing that someone you respect has faith and confidence in you can have extraordinary consequences. Another Great blog Josh!
    Uncle Bruce

  6. Hey, I just wanted to leave a quick comment to say that I really loved reading your blog. There is a lot of great information here for anyone interested in this topic. Keep up the good work.


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