You haven’t fully lived until you’ve given an 18-year-old on the brink of their freshman year in college a truly frank sex ed talk. It was uncomfortable. A lot has been uncomfortable in this relationship. There was the meltdown early on over white cheddar macaroni and cheese not being made of “real” cheese, the temperamental teen-age girl rejections, her absent mom’s accidental death from an overdose. It’s been challenging, to say the least. But joining Big Brothers Big Sisters as a mentor (aka “Big”) in 2012 is still one of the best things I’ve ever done.
When I signed up as a Big, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew they would match me with a child they thought I would get along with for, at minimum, a year of my life, with a commitment of seeing them at least twice a month. I’m not a kid person, per se, but I wanted to get involved.
Want to think about social justice more? Love someone impacted by racism, addiction, incarceration, generational poverty, abuse, disabilities, etc. — sometimes more than one of these things. Want to think about social justice less? Stop thinking and start doing: Mentoring is fun. I relived parts of my childhood I didn’t even know needed reliving.
Because I mentored, I can also attest that coloring is still super relaxing, roller skating is terrifying, ice cream selection for a single scoop is excruciating, and homecoming dress shopping is thrilling. Also, teen-agers can be fickle and frustrating. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need you.
Compared to other children, Littles are less likely to begin using illegal drugs or alcohol and less likely to skip school or hit someone. They’re more confident of their performance on schoolwork, and they get along better with their families. Littles have confidence they'll achieve their goals. I don’t have research for Bigs, but I know my experience: I feel like my Baltimore world is bigger. My heart is a little younger. My mind is a little broader. And I’m walking away from the program a friend, and a family, richer.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Maryland has hundreds of kids on their wait list. That’s a lot of boys and girls (and probably some that are confused and need a friend to tell them that’s OK too) ages 6 up to 18 who are waiting. That doesn’t include those on the lists of other community organizations, nonprofits, churches, schools and more with their own mentoring programs, not only in the city, but the state.
In Baltimore City somewhere right now, possibly hearing that same police helicopter you are, there is a kid who has agreed to let a now-stranger be a part of their possibility. What a gift.
You’re probably not an astronaut, movie star or surgeon. But they could be. Someone should tell them that — maybe you. It’s so rewarding to be allowed into the world of possibility and a limitless future, to be the person to tell these young people “yes,” or, in some well thought out cases, “no.” You have a chance to be a part of their possibility, a true advocate in a world of online commenters. Shame on anyone equipped to do it who doesn’t even pause to consider it.
My little sister graduated high school last year, and, like she told me she would be when she was 12, she’s off at college. It has only been two months, but I already miss my thought-filled treks between Locust Point and West Baltimore, being in touch with popular music and the laughter. So much laughter.
I helped drop off her off at college for her freshman year. She brought the quirky humor, the math chops, the sassy girl-woman full of bravado her single father courageously and cheerfully corralled. I brought the xl twin sheets, cleaning supplies and a box of white cheddar mac and cheese. She informed me she’s ready for it. I know she is.