By Robin Nathankern
January is National Mentoring Month.
I was 9 years old when I met my Big Sister Julie for the first time and I remember being equally excited and nervous. I was a very shy child, and I didn’t say much when we were sitting in my living room with my family. But once we got in the car, I felt very at ease. Julie knew just the right things to say, and questions to ask, to get me chatting.
The relationship we developed over the next seven years really had a significant impact on my life. Having a relationship with an adult who was not a family member provided a level of stability in my life that was very valuable. Julie played many roles, including friend, sister and mentor.
It was the positive experience of having been mentored as a “Little Sister” that motivated me to volunteer years later as a “Big Sister” with Jewish Community Services.
Julie and I enjoyed many fun activities together, but our go-to activity was to take her dog, Lhotse, to the dog park at Robert E. Lee. I loved spending time with that free-spirited animal, being outside in nature, and, of course, bonding with Julie. We also went to the movies quite a bit, which I loved because it was not a popular activity in my home.
And one of the rare but special treats was when I was allowed to spend the night at her house – on a school night! We did homework, took the dog on a walk, and watched cable TV. And, the best part? I got to have Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast – something my health-conscious mom never would have done. It was nice to have an adult that I knew look out for me, but also let me break the rules a little – something parents don’t often have the luxury of doing.
Perhaps the most special thing about my friendship with Julie was to have something that none of my friends had – something that you couldn’t put a price tag on. It was very tough for me to be a single child, in a single-parent home, going to a private school with kids who were in a more stable financial and familial situation. Even though sometimes it hurt when my mom couldn’t buy me all of the things my friends had, there was this one cool thing that I had that none of them had access to, and that really made me feel special.
Julie and I stayed in touch for years after our match ended when I was 16. Because my Big Sister had such a significant impact on my life, I knew I wanted to give that to another person. I was eager to become a Big Sister as soon as I was eligible, but I had to wait until I was settled in one city so that I could provide stability in the relationship. I moved back to Baltimore in 2004 and was volunteering with Jewish Big Brother Big Sister by 2005.
I’ve learned so much from this relationship! I’ve learned that I am a great listener, and that just by giving my “Little” the opportunity to be heard, I have made a huge impact on her life. I have always struggled a little with being patient, and this relationship has certainly allowed me to practice and strengthen this skill.
The staff at JCS has been wonderful throughout this match. Any time I’m struggling with an issue, I can reach out to my social worker for immediate assistance. And, the programs, activities and trainings that are provided are immensely valuable as well.
If you are looking for a rewarding experience, there is no better way to spend your time. While it may seem like a cliché statement, as a Big Sister or Big Brother, you really will receive more from the relationship than you give.
January is National Mentoring Month. Right now, there are children in our community who need a friend and a mentor. If you would like to learn more about becoming a Big Sister or Big Brother, please contact Jewish Community Services (JCS) Volunteer Services, 410-466-9200. Getting together with your “Little” twice a month is all it takes, and JCS provides training and support.