January 15th, 2014
The New Year’s Resolution You Will Want to Keep: Mentor a Child
Mike DiSalvo, Vice President of Commercial Loans at Orange County Trust with his Little Brother Juan.
Each one of us remembers someone special – a neighbor, teacher, relative or friend - who broadened our horizons and brought a little magic into our lives. Maybe it was the person who taught you to throw straight, gave you an ‘attaboy’ or ‘attagirl’, or just listened. It may have been someone who helped you make a good decision, instead of a bad one. Perhaps it was someone who shared their strength with you when you needed it most.
What better way to start the new year than to return the favor by mentoring a young person in your community who needs you? January is National Mentoring Month, as well as the month to make New Year’s resolutions. This year, if you become a mentor, it may be the one resolution you will want to keep. A few outings a month with a ‘Little Brother’ or ‘Little Sister’ enjoying everyday activities may not seem like much, but the positive impact on the child, and on you, can be life-changing. In fact, national research shows that children in our program make smarter life choices, avoid risky behaviors, achieve greater educational success, and are more likely to contribute to a strong community. Being a mentor could be the single most rewarding experience of your year.
Mike DiSalvo, Vice President of Commercial Loans at Orange County Trust, emigrated from Italy with his family at the age of six, and though he grew up with both parents in the house, he says he felt the absence of a mentor in his life. He knew that, if given the chance to make a difference for someone else, he would take it. When he heard a presentation by Executive Director Nancy Kosloski through a United Way Campaign he was leading at the bank, he decided to get involved. Soon after, he met Juan, who would be his friend and ‘Little Brother’ for the next 6 years, and counting. Juan was a 5th grader being raised by his mother, in an impoverished neighborhood. He was struggling against negative influences, and stood at cross-roads in life. The two hit it off from the start, meeting for an hour each week during lunch at Juan’s school. They played games, taught each other their native languages – Italian and Spanish – and shared in small moments that were meaningful. Both being born in another country, Mike says they shared “a common sensibility”, and over the years, developed a strong friendship. Mike’s work throughout Orange County exposed him to a wide variety of backgrounds, industries, and opportunities, and he always strived to share the view with Juan. Mike helped remove barriers for Juan, and taught Juan how to remove his own barriers, so he could achieve more within himself, and in his community. This past year, Juan graduated from high school, and just completed his first semester of college! The relationship with Mike has been like a compass point, providing the guidance, encouragement, and life skills he needs to succeed now and in the future. For Mike, it’s been “a wonderful experience, an opportunity to stay involved with young people – to touch a young person’s life as one of a number of needed positive influences, and to always keep that alive.”
The rewards of mentoring are great, and volunteers say they get more than they give. Not sure you’re mentor material? Don’t let the common misconceptions stand in your way! First, mentors don’t need big jobs or high positioning in the community. Kids don’t care about titles, only that you care and show up to keep commitments. While our Bigs are ordinary people in regular professions, alumni Littles tell us that to them, their Bigs were and always will be real-life celebrities. Second, there is a misconception that it takes a lot of time to be a ‘Big’. The fact is, time spent together is about quality, not quantity. ‘Bigs’ and ‘Littles’ get together 2-3 times per month, doing everyday activities they both enjoy, opening up new opportunities and sharing in conversations along the way that provide the guidance and encouragement children need. Third, while many children and mentors create life-long friendships, this is not a requirement. We strive to help our matches have fun and stay strong for at least a year or more, and provide professional support to coach both the ‘Big’ and ‘Little’ as they transition or graduate out of the match when the time is right.
Some folks tell us they worry that they will run out of ideas for things to do with a Little Brother or Little Sister. We provide loads of ideas on free and low-cost activities, and we also organize several indoor and outdoor group events for Bigs and Littles throughout the year. One Big told us, “Spending time with my Little Brother is easy. Stuff I’d do by myself is more fun with him.” Another tells us he makes time for community service, like volunteering at a food bank, among the activities he has with his Little Brother.
So what are you waiting for? They are 60 children in Orange County, mostly boys of color, waiting and ready to be matched right now with their Big Brother or Sister. Resolve to help change a life for the better. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” Call (845) 562-5900, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our website at www.mentorachild.org. You’ll be glad you did!