Mentoring Matters

Several years ago I worked for Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS). I was a School Buddy Specialist, which meant that I matched adult volunteers with elementary-aged children at the child’s school during the school day. The volunteers made a commitment to meet with the kids once a week, and it was generally during the child’s lunch/recess time.

One of my favorite matches was with a second grade boy named Wyatt. He was recommended for the School Buddies program not only because he would benefit from having an additional positive adult in his life, but he also played a lot of violent video games at home, and sometimes his teachers didn’t know if he could distinguish what was in the game and what was real life.

When I first met Wyatt, it was a winter day he was in line to get his lunch. I had his School Buddy with me, a male university student. I was excited that I had a male volunteer to match Wyatt with, since males made up only about 10 percent of our volunteers, and this volunteer was positive and very personable. I was expecting an excited child, ready to go with us to the library to get to know each other. This was not what happened.

Wyatt was wearing his snow pants, boots, and heavy coat.  He was looking forward to going outside for recess to play in the snow. Wyatt was not happy that he would be missing recess, even if it was to hang out with a School Buddy, something that many children wished they had the opportunity to do. I stayed with this new match for most of their meeting. This was the first time I had a child not excited to get a School Buddy, to have one-on-one time with an adult.

Wyatt picked a game to play – Battleship. He was not interested in talking or giving any information about himself. When Wyatt would pick a place to “shoot,” he would dramatically say, “FIRE! C2.” My first thought was, oh boy, this volunteer will have his work cut out for him. Thankfully, the volunteer was very committed, and he wasn’t going to let a child’s protective armor push him away. The volunteer faithfully came to meet with Wyatt every week.

One spring day, few months after our first meeting with the volunteer, when I was going to Wyatt’s school to check in on some of my other School Buddy matches, Wyatt was outside playing on the playground at recess. He ran over to me, with a big smile, and asked when his Buddy was coming. Was it today? I did a double take. Was this the same kid? The same kid who wouldn’t make eye contact with me or his Buddy, and hid behind his imaginary armor? What I was seeing was a changed child. Wyatt had benefitted from the experience of a positive mentor, who came to see him every week and didn’t judge him. Wyatt had someone who he could be himself with, and in doing that, he started to come out of that armor.

Wyatt was one of the most dramatic changes I had the privilege to see during my time with BBBS.  There are many more stories just as inspiring, and many children who benefited from having a mentor in their lives. One only needs to see mentors in action to know just how meaningful they can be!

January is National Mentoring Month. You can learn more about how to be a mentor to a student like Wyatt at  And be sure to participate in our Twitter chat on January 31 at 3:00 p.m., ET using the #MentorsMatter hashtag.