A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves.
– Amelia Earhart
This was the quote up on the wall at the Big Brother Big Sister (BBBS) meeting room at their head office in Calgary. I was moved by it. The main reason I was in that room was to give back a portion of the kindness that I had received.
I had wanted to devote portion of my time to volunteering for a while. There are so many options. I had expected to use some of my technical skills to help out with an NGO website or registration system.
I don’t know the exact moment in which I changed my mind. I don’t remember if this was a realization that happened gradually or that hit me in a moment of quasi-religious insight – what I did know was that I needed to give back what I had been so generously given, and that was by giving presence. This meant my time, energy, honesty, encouragement and support. More importantly, I went from believing that I was someone that should have little to no contact with humans, to believing I had the social skills and compassion to be a mentor. I changed the story I had told myself, about myself. I’ll never forget that.
I wanted to be there for someone without the expectation of anything in return. That was how mentorship became my choice for volunteerism. It sounds incredibly simple, yet its impact has massive potential.
While my initial motivation towards mentorship was based on emotion and gratitude, there is some actual research explaining its value. The science here regards the concept of resilience. You’ll find many formal and informal definitions for it, but it comes down to people growing up to be positive, loving, reasonable and emotionally healthy, despite having come from troubled backgrounds. These are the kids that beat the odds. The ones that faced stress, tragedy and trauma and adapted to everything life threw at them. Plenty of factors help foster resiliency, and one major factor is this:
“The best documented asset of resilience is a strong bond to a competent and caring adult which need not be a parent. For children who do not have such an adult involved in their life, it is the first order of business” (Masten and Reed, 2002).
Take a minute to think about the above statement. One adult, who need not be the parent, who is consistently there for the child, will have a dramatic positive impact as to how resilient that child grows up to be.
Back to the meeting room – we were about ten volunteers all taking part in a mentorship training workshop taking turns explaining why each of us signed up for the program. Every single person in that room was there because they had been on the receiving end of support and kindness, and wanted to give that back. Remember, kindness throws out roots.
It was two months before the workshop that I had applied to be a mentor on the BBBS Calgary website. I had known that I would be applying for a while, but wanted to wait till I felt settled into a routine that could sustain the emotional and time commitments required. The online application was painless, and required the contact information of references that had known me for at least two years.
There are NGOs you apply to and wait for weeks with no response, and call and email only to get a lukewarm “we’ll call you back” response. Big Brothers Big Sisters Calgary is not that organization. I got a call from one of the mentorship coordinators the next day. I was asked some preliminary questions, and directed to an online training module. The coordinator then requested to interview me at my workplace. I was impressed. They meant business.
I booked a meeting room at my office for thirty minutes. I expected this to be more than sufficient. I was wrong.
If you’re uncomfortable opening up about your personal life, do not apply for mentorship at BBBS. Seriously, don’t do it. The interview lasted an hour and a half and the coordinator had me spill my entire life story. She had learned minutia like where I grew up and what my hobbies are, to my spousal issues and the complicated relationship I have with my parents. If there was any serious unresolved crazy in me, I’m pretty sure she would have dug it up.
After the interview, online training, calls to my references and a background check, BBBS was sufficiently convinced that I was competent enough to become a mentor.
The only remaining step was to attend a volunteer training session, which takes us back to the BBBS meeting room. The quote on the wall, the other volunteers, the coordinators, the pizza, and the coffee, all made me keenly aware that I was in the right place.
In the next few weeks, I’ll write more about my experience with BBBS Calgary, including getting matched with a mentee, and early reflections on the experience.