By: Russell White, AmeriCorps VISTA Member with the Iowa Mentoring Partnership
Co-authored: Tori Babe, Match Support Specialist with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands
Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of the Midlands has for more than 50 years operated under the belief that inherent in every child is the ability to succeed and thrive in life. They develop positive friendships that have a direct and lasting effect on the lives of young people. Nothing could be truer, especially in the case of Nevaeh and her Big, Melissa Linn. But what makes this story even more special is how active and close Nevaeh’s guardian, her grandmother Becky, is with both Nevaeh and Melissa.
Nevaeh and Melissa were matched in September of 2016. Nevaeh experienced a tumultuous time period. Becky’s sister, Jenny, took in Nevaeh and adopted her after complications with Nevaeh’s mother. Jenny took great care of Nevaeh but was later diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. Jenny’s lung cancer later spread to other parts of her body, and sadly passed away. Becky shortly after took in Nevaeh to take care of her. Realizing the tough time Nevaeh was going through, Becky had recalled that her daughter, Ashley, was involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Becky loved hearing her daughter talk about her relationship with her Little Sister and knew Nevaeh could benefit from a friend/mentor; especially right now with all the transitions and loss in her life.
The first few months of the match were a bit rocky. Melissa was incredibly outgoing and Nevaeh at this time was still quite reserved and quiet. Nevaeh’s hair was often in her face and she rarely looked at Melissa when she would ask her questions. Through the support and encouragement of their Match Support Specialist Melissa persevered and knew not to take Nevaeh’s presumable lack of interest personally. During this time, Becky also stepped in to help. The Match Support Specialist encouraged Becky and Melissa to talk more and for Becky to help with getting activity ideas from Nevaeh, so Nevaeh was more engaged and chose the activities.
One idea that Nevaeh had was to run or walk in a 5K, but this was something that Melissa was not all that excited about. Melissa loves theater and that was something Nevaeh had never experienced and was also apprehensive about. So, in the end the two of them made a deal: Melissa would participate and train for the 5K and Nevaeh would go with Melissa to a couple plays. By allowing Nevaeh to choose activities and encouraging her to try new things and step outside her comfort zone, Nevaeh slowly began to open up more and more. It did not take too long for Melissa to catch on that Nevaeh was a clever and creative young lady. Melissa first began to realize this whenever Halloween rolled around during their first year of being matched. Nevaeh loves to dress-up for Halloween, and for their first Halloween Nevaeh went dressed as a super-villain that she herself had created and designed! Not only that, but Nevaeh also has a good taste in humor because the next year Nevaeh went dressed as Wednesday Adams and Melissa went as Fester Adams. You have to love the classics!
While Nevaeh and Melissa were getting to know each other and trying new activities together, Big Brothers Big Sisters was helping by engaging the family in other ways behind the scene. The Match Support Specialist invited Becky to the Parent/Guardian Appreciation Brunch. Becky felt empowered because she was selected to share her opinion and make suggestions to the program. Becky loved the event and appreciated getting to know other parent/guardians in the program. Becky especially appreciated the focus on adding more agency activities that families are invited to and newsletters that will keep parent/guardians updated on what is going on in the program.
During a Match Support contact, Becky asked about summer programs or camps and her Match Support was able to refer them to the Buford Foundation’s Camp Confidence. Nevaeh was able to attend the camp and LOVED it. The Match Support Specialist helped connect the match to discounted activities, donated tickets, and encouraged them to attend agency activities.
When Nevaeh and Melissa first met, Nevaeh simply wouldn’t talk with Melissa much. But, Melissa’s perseverance and dedication to stick with it proved extremely rewarding. Fast forward 9 months into the relationship and Nevaeh began to open-up more to Melissa. She also began to interact with her more as well! Today, Nevaeh, Melissa and Becky have a strong and enduring relationship. Becky is fantastic with communicating with Melissa and the Match Support Specialist and encouraging Nevaeh.
All three of them completed the 5K, and Nevaeh and Melissa can often be found at the Omaha Community Playhouse either attending a show with tickets donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters, or volunteering at the playhouse to help seat the audience. Nevaeh has come out of her shell and talks more than ever. Her hair is often pulled back and she looks people in the eyes when having a conversation. Nevaeh has made friends, she joined band, joined the dance team and loves all of it! Not to mention that she was the student manager of the volleyball team and has plans to try out for the team this next year. Nevaeh and Becky’s relationship has also improved, and Becky attended the second annual of the Parent/Guardian Engagement Brunch for BBBS of the Midlands.
When looking at such a tremendous story with such a tremendous trio, it is sometimes hard to determine who lucked out. Becky feels like she is truly the lucky one. Seeing how much Nevaeh has grown and come out of her shell leaves a warm feeling in Becky’s heart, while also having the additional support from Melissa helps relieve some of the load from her shoulders. Plus, Melissa is an incredibly respectful and considerate mentor that it is hard to imagine having a better mentor for Nevaeh.
Then again, Melissa feels like she has also gotten a lot out of the relationship with Nevaeh, and sometimes feels as if she received more of the benefit. Melissa has thought about having kids of her own and possibly adopting, so mentoring Nevaeh has enriched her own life and given her the kind of time and experience she was hoping for. Given, it was like pulling teeth in the beginning, but now Melissa is texting Nevaeh on her first day back to school wishing her a great day and Nevaeh is reaching out to her and asking to spend time with her!
But, Nevaeh also feels like she is the one who has benefited the most from her time with Melissa. She really enjoys Melissa’s personality and the fact that she tends to be pretty happy which is contagious, according to Nevaeh. Melissa has helped encourage her to get out of the house more, be more engaged, try more new things and in general just have someone to go to whenever she is in need. Today, Nevaeh is engaged at her school and doing well with her grades. She is more confident and more actively engaging with her extremely creative mind. One of the life lessons that stood out to her that she took away from Melissa was that she should “never give up in life” and that she should “keep trying even when I mess up.”
All three of these tremendous individuals feel as if they are the luckiest people in the world. Does it really matter who we think has benefited more? It is clear that all three have taken away overwhelmingly positive feelings and lessons from this relationship. In asking Becky and Melissa some tips and tricks for other mentors and parents/guardians they both gave some true words of wisdom. It is crucial that mentor/mentee matches receive support from the parents/guardians of the mentee. Becky is the definition of an exemplar in this case. In asking her what advice she could give other parents/guardians who are considering placing their kids in a mentor program she didn’t hesitate to voice her thoughts. “Give it a shot. You have nothing to lose. If you’re not happy, they will match you with someone else. If there is a problem, there is always a chance to work it out. But, I think you got to give it awhile. Just give them a shot. You’ll be thankful you did; especially if you’re a single parent or guardian.”
Melissa also had some words of wisdom to pass down to other mentors or those who are considering becoming mentors. Many of us are too familiar with the fact that being a mentor is not necessarily easy, but necessary. Sometimes, like in Melissa’s case, the match can start off a little rocky. But, according to Melissa, all you need is “patience, because of the reluctance in the beginning. You have to stick with it because the wait is completely worth it.” Plus, she also said something which I am sure strikes a chord with all of those who mentor someone, and it’s a message for all of those who aren’t mentors yet. “It’s four hours a month at the minimum. Think of all the things you do that is nothing in four hours a month. Why not, you know?”
What will you do with your four hours a month? You too can have a positive impact on a young person’s life and give them the support that they need. Click here to find out more on how you too can become a mentor!