A few days ago, I attended a volunteer appreciation dinner for my favorite charity of all time, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Minnesota. I’ve been a Big for almost 14 years, and had an active match with a terrific young man, Zach, for more than 11 of those years, until he outgrew the program (age 18 or HS graduation, whichever comes later).
The highlight of the evening was an emotional testimonial from a former Little Brother who had grown up and gotten married. He is still good friends with his former Big Brother and thanked him and the program for helping him find a good path to adulthood. These two came together by chance, but are closer than blood relatives because theirs is a voluntary relationship. I’ve known the Big Brother for more than 10 years, and tried to model my relationship with my Little Brother after his relationship with his Little. Zach and I had a successful relationship, we’re still good friends, and see each other now and then. So I feel like my mentorship with Zach was successful.
Most outsiders assume the LIttles get the most out of the Big/Little relationship, but almost to a person, the Bigs will tell you they’ve gotten far more out of the relationship than their Littles. I echo that sentiment 100%, but for an interesting reason: I’ve learned an incredible amount about Zach’s heritage and the struggles of the working poor class and the “welfare” class.
Zach’s grandparents did much of the parenting for him, providing room and board for a majority of his youth. Zach’s father was essentially absent, including time spent in prison, a common contributor to dysfunctional families and parent/child relationships. Zach’s mother struggle with emotional issues, drugs, and employment problems. Living was merely day to day, with no thought to planning for the future. If the rent and utility bills were paid and all had some food to eat that day, life was good. Tomorrow was in the future, and not to be worried about until tomorrow.
Zach’s dominant heritage is Mexican, and that culture is strongly family-oriented, almost to a fault because children are taught to trust, obey, stay loyal, and honor their mother and father, even if mother and father have severe personal problems that prevent them from being effective parents.
That difference, plus the socioeconomic disadvantage and the parental chaos gave me insight to the plight of more and more millions of Americans as the generations progress. Poverty has been institutionalized, and it’s becoming the only way of life millions of today’s children and parents have known and will know.
I don’t have the answers to these huge problems, or point blame at anyone (although leading the way is overreaching government that tries to “help” everyone by throwing money at programs that sound good but do more harm than good). All I will say is that driving across town every week or so for 11+ years to observe Zach’s home life for a short while was equivalent to traveling overseas to visit a less prosperous country than the United States and witness poverty and its related struggles.
As a Neo Renaissance practitioner, traveling is valued as a way to see how others live, eat, play, work, celebrate, mourn, and treat each other, then learn from those other cultures, both positives and negatives, in our endless quest to become more perfect beings. Being able to “travel” instantly, at almost no cost, and learn so much about humanity is priceless. My world view has been forever altered by the privilege of helping a young boy become a successful adult. That’s why I feel I’ve gotten more from the Big/Little relationship that my Little Brother. I’m a wiser, more compassionate, more understanding person since I’ve seen “the other side of the tracks.”
What’s your favorite charitable cause and why? Have you considered becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister? If yes, make the jump and sign up. You’ll never regret it. Or, find another mentoring organization and share your time with someone who needs help, guidance, or encouragement. One-on-one mentoring is the best way to have a positive impact on your community.