Guest Blog post by Jeffrey Chin, MSW, LCSW
For me, it reminded me of 1984. The year 1984, and not the book 1984, although I would understand why many would assume this was what I meant. In 1984, I was 12 years old, and I remember feeling a wide range of emotions that year—jubilant highs when my first articles and cartoons were published in the school newspaper, making the first violin section of my youth orchestra, going on my first “date” (at the mall!), as well as significant lows…including losing both of my grandfathers to cancer within months of one another. It was during the Cold War era, and I remember as a middle school student feeling uncertain, even fearful at times, about what was going to happen in the world. Sound familiar? One of my uncles at the time spoke constantly about a “bomb shelter” he was going to build in case of nuclear attack, and this reflected the general mood and climate of our community – indeed, our society — at the time.
However, the thing I remember most back then was another constant in my life: a different uncle, one who would come to be a mentor for me in many ways. This uncle (let’s call him “Uncle K.”) was the one person in my life who wasn’t an authority figure, wasn’t a parent, wasn’t someone in an expected child-caring role. He was just there to be a source of great support during my successes (he took me to my first New England Patriots game as a reward for mustering a grade above C+ in French), an even greater source of “tough love” to help me toughen up and build resilience in the face of challenges, and most of all, he was just there to help me understand and navigate the world that was 1984, in all its complexities. It was Uncle K who encouraged my love of drawing and writing, which led to my modest middle school career as the Nathaniel Greene Middle School’s version of Stan Lee. Uncle K was also the one to help push me out of my dejection when I didn’t make any of the sports teams I tried out for, and he ensured that I didn’t feel too sorry for myself by consistently challenging me to try something else. Most memorably for me, Uncle K was the one to help me work through the loss of both of my grandfathers within 5 months of one another, as both my mother and my father were each alternatively consumed with dealing with the loss of a father.
As I ponder the significance of 2016, I recall the importance that 1984 held for me – one of my seminal years where successes and failures, celebrations and losses all helped to shape who I came to become years later. And during that year, and many years after that, I had someone in my corner the whole time…through all the changes, the highs, the lows. Everyone needs an Uncle K. But not everyone is so lucky.
So, how was your 2016? I know this can potentially be a loaded question, for many of us. No doubt, 2016 was a year of great excitement, intense uncertainty, positive engagement, disappointing lack of participation by some, and ultimately, change for many. During this National Mentoring Month, we here at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Mass/Metrowest have come to understand that for many of our matches, excitement, engagement, and yes, change, is a crucial part of the mentoring experience. There remain a number of people who may not fully understand or appreciate the power of mentoring, as some would reduce this activity to a “making new friends” for children. While there is indeed an important component of friendship-building in all mentoring relationships, the true impact of a mentor-mentee (or Big and Little) experience lies in the shared experiences that shape both members of the match. Moreover, the presence of someone in one’s life (especially someone in a mentoring role) as they experience something exciting, or new, or uncertain, or sad (or is it ‘Sad!’?) is what makes these experiences so meaningful, and oftentimes, formative.
As I think back to the events of this last year, there were many exciting times and highpoints, both personally and organizationally. It was incredibly humbling for our agency to be recognized with a national award, and it was also daunting to think about how many are on our waitlists – and how many more are out there in our communities in need of mentoring. As I reflect on this past year, I am heartened by the growth and blossoming of our MySTEM program and our continued impact on the Worcester community through our 600+ brigade of college students serving our Worcester Area College Mentors Program (WACMP). It was also gratifying to highlight the profound impact our Community Mentoring Program can have, as evidenced by a spotlight on one of our many terrific matches.
As I think back to my own experiences of 2016, I am grateful to have had special people in my life to share these notable occurrences, not because these experiences were necessarily remarkable (some were), but because life is all the more meaningful when you have someone to share these experiences with. If you think back to important moments in your life – good or bad, positively affirming or incredibly challenging — it is likely that you can point to a person or two who helped you make sense of the experience, or cheer its utter awesomeness, or push you to persevere through its difficulty. You very well could have had your version of Uncle K. All children, including those we currently serve and those we are yet to serve, deserve to have that someone in their corner to help experience all that life has to offer. The fact that National Mentoring Month falls in January is no coincidence; the first month of the year is the perfect time to reflect on the past year to gain lessons and insights on our experiences…hopefully with someone whose role is purely as a confidante, a cheerleader, a…mentor. An Uncle K. It is also a perfect time to find inspiration and marshal available resources to become empowered to help where we can, where we are – regardless what the future may hold for us.
These highlights were also met with some significant incidents of sadness and loss, as our organization lost one of its true founders in the passing of Dr. H. Martin Deranian, one of the longest serving Big Brothers in the country. Up until his passing in the fall, Dr. Deranian continued to meet with his “Little” Brother regularly for lunch to spend quality time, share experiences, and discuss current events. Dr. Deranian’s passing certainly created a void in our collective hearts, but also served to invigorate, inspire and renew our passion for our important mission: provide children facing adversity with a positive, consistent, and reliable mentor. He reminds us that all of our experiences, especially during such a tumultuous and event-filled year, are ones that influence and affect us the most when taken as a shared experience…this includes all types of experiences: celebrations of successes, discussions around doubt, navigating through disappointments, and traversing through the unknown.
In Massachusetts, there are an estimated 434,000+ single parent households with children facing their own version of my 1984. May 2017 be filled with Uncle Ks for them all.
Jeffrey Chin, MSW, LCSW is Chief Executive Officer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Mass/Metrowest. Find out more at bbbscm.org!