June 2, 2017

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a program working toward long term impact. I have found that another task as the director of mentoring agency is I am Keeper of the Stories. Our agency has been in our community for 46 years. During that time, our impact has reached over 4,481 children, which means we have also worked with over 4,481 parents and nearly 4,481 volunteers, too. In total, that’s over 13,443 lives!

Over the last 2 weeks, the stories I’ve heard have stayed with me. I keep rolling them around in my mind. I’ll be honest, every story doesn’t have a happy ending. But most do. Most stories share hope that is invigorating and helps me stay motivated to do our work.

I’m going to use this blog to record the stories I hear. When I’m able to find photos, I’ll share those too. So I invite you to read on for the first such story, about Clark.

Clark’s story

Clark* has come in the office several times over the past year. He’s a copy machine repairman. He goes about his business with a smile on his face. He is always tidy – he kind of looks like an accountant. You would never guess from his appearance that he works with toner and ink. His face is weathered, but his clothes are never wrinkled. He looks like any number of hard working men I’ve met in my life, someone who is glad to have good work to do with his hands.

After his third appearance in so many weeks, I’ve started getting to know Clark. On his most recent visit Clark told me, “I had a Big Brother when I was a boy.” Clark’s eyes softened as he spoke, crinkles showing up in his nose as he spoke.

“I grew up in the projects. My home was filthy and cockroach infested. My mom sold our food stamps to support her pill habit,” Clark said, looking at his feet.

“I had never had fresh clean pajamas or fresh sheets after a bath until I was matched with a Big Brother and his wife when I was six years old. They took me home with them for an overnight. They gave me a bath – I was so filthy – and then I put on fresh pajamas and slept in that soft, clean bed. I didn’t know how nice life could be. For six months, I saw them every weekend. It was wonderful.”

My heart is glowing, hearing about the security and care he received when with his Big Brother’s family. Clark’s eyes darken, as he continues, “But after 6 months, they came to me and said they wouldn’t be able to see me anymore. I remember watching the wife cry. I was only 6 years old. I didn’t understand – I don’t know why they wouldn’t continue. I love the time I had with them, though. My life was hard. I would say if they’d stuck around, they would be part of my success story. But they didn’t. As it is, my Big Brother offered me a picture into a different life, a better life and for that I’m thankful.”

____________

Dear reader, I still am not sure how to think of Clark’s story. We definitely had an impact, but his memory is conflicted. He’s still hurt by their disappearance, which supports the research which states a match less than one year is more harmful than if a child would never have a mentor.

Our mission is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one mentor relationships that change their life for the better, forever. My mind catches on the “strong and enduring” when I think of Clark. Clark has built a wonderful life for himself. But I wonder, what would be different for Clark if his match had been “strong and enduring”?

Clark is 52 years old, so if I do the math, he was 6 years old in 1971, the year we opened our doors. Clarks’ memory of our impact hasn’t dulled with time -- he was picturesque in his description of his match. I wonder, did his match end because a rule made it ‘unsafe’ for him to bathe or spend the night at the home of his Big? That’s definitely outside of standards of practice and grounds for match closure today. I can only speculate the real reason. I’ve looked for the files, but all that remains is a 3 x 5 index card with Clark’s name on it – no explanation. The reason for his match ending remains a mystery.

I must tell you, my friends, the gift mentors provide to the children in our community is so simple. Children facing adversity need to be seen and heard. For Clark it was the caring showed through clean pajamas. For me, it was 15 minutes at the kitchen table after school with my aunt. For my husband, it was his Big Brother feeding quarters into a pinball game. All that’s needed is for someone to show up. Consistently. It is not about what you do during the time. It is truly just about showing up.

When you give just a little of yourself—when you show up -- it reaps big results in the life of one child. It’s life changing. And when we change kids’ lives, we change our whole community. Would you join me?

 

 *Not his real name.