By “Big Brother” Jon Vanderhoof

Being a mentor is one of the most important roles we may fulfill. We benefit from mentoring relationships throughout our lives. This is especially true for kids. Kids need mentors. They need positive role models from whom they can trust and learn.

If you think back to your own childhood, you may recall an adult who was a valued mentor to you. It may have been a family member, like a parent. It may also have been someone else like a teacher, a coach or a family friend. Although my parents were my primary mentors, there were other adults who took an interest in me and helped to shape who I would become as an adult.

Things have changed (a lot) since I was young. Kids today have to deal with a lot more than in the past. They need adults they can trust who will listen to them, encourage them and when appropriate, offer guidance. Mentors are more important than ever. An adult who cares can make a BIG difference in the life of a child. It might be in a profound way in in smaller, simpler ways that over time still have a profound, life-changing impact.

My Mentoring Beginnings
A little more than ten years ago I began my journey as a mentor. I had been thinking of ways I could serve my community when I noticed an advertisement for Big Brothers Big Sisters. After initial training and a background check I was matched with a boy who had just turned eleven years old. I would ultimately be his “Big” until he was nineteen. Now, I have been matched to a new “Little” for a little over a year.

Big Brothers Big Sisters
Big Brothers Big Sisters is recognized as the single most effective prevention-based mentoring program in the United States. At-risk children ages 6-15 are carefully matched with caring adult mentors, who help them reach their full potential through one-to-one relationships built on trust, friendship, consistency, support, and guidance. Their mission is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever. Every year, volunteer Big Brothers and Big Sisters help improve the lives of more than 200 youth in Santa Barbara County, many from single-parent, low-income homes.

Being a “Big” is Fun
Big Brothers Big Sisters does an excellent job of matching Bigs with Littles who have similar interests. I have really enjoyed my experience and recommend it highly. I try to create experiences for my Little that will broaden his horizons and provide life-long memories. I often find that things I already like to do are more enjoyable when shared with my Little. Even things I’ve done many times are more fun and take on a feeling of “newness”.

One of my commitments is to simply show up, to be a consistent presence in the life of my Little. In my first relationship there were a few times when my Little didn’t show up. Once, I wasn’t able to connect with him for about a month. I kept calling and did not give up. It was an opportunity for me to show him that I was committed to the relationship and that he was important to me.

My Little and I spend a lot of time together doing simple things we both enjoy (tossing a football, shooting hoops, bowling, playing ping pong), being on a “mission” to find the best hamburger—a search that extends from Los Angeles to Paso Robles— or experiencing new things like going to the snow, kayaking, fishing, trying different kinds of food. Time is one of the best gifts an adult can give to a kid. One or two hours a week is all it takes. What takes a relatively small amount of time can have a huge impact on a child.

I appreciate the professional support provided by Big Brothers Big Sisters. Although I was spending time in a one-to-one relationship with my Little, I never felt like I was in it alone. At the same time I sought to encourage and support my Little, I was being encouraged and supported by our case worker and other staff.

Could This Be You?
You may be the one who can change a child’s life for the better, forever. Big Brothers and Big Sisters are community leaders, professionals, college students, retirees, military personnel, married couples and others who are caring adults. There are kids right now who are waiting to have a Big come into their life. You can do things you enjoy while creating fun experiences and life-long memories for a child. By becoming a Big you can have a positive impact on and be a positive influence in the life of a child.

Learn more about being a big brother or big sister at sbbigs.org.