I spent my first 17 years living in a duplex at the intersection of three streets comprising what’s known, in those parts, as the “Iron Triangle.” It’s a neighborhood surrounded by old iron and steel factories where lots of working-poor people I knew were employed at one time or another. My dad and my grandfather were both factory workers. I was never really sure whether the place derived its name from its industrial past or its people: tough but ultimately malleable, capable of being formed under just the right conditions. And that’s how it was for me.

It honestly never occurred to me as a kid that I was growing up with less, because, when it came to family and friends, my mentors and motivators, I had plenty. It was only with some distance that I realized things could have turned out very differently. I aspired to goals that might have been beyond my reach if I doubted for a second my own capacity to achieve—but I really didn’t. They wouldn’t let me. It was always, “When you graduate…” and “When you go to college…” and “When you travel…” and, most of all, “When you get to where you’re going, look back.”

So I graduated near the top of my class, gave my college’s student commencement address, traveled, studied and lived abroad for a while, went on to law school, passed the bar, started my own family and looked back. I’ll never stop being grateful to everyone who cared about me along the way and when it mattered most. I believe in mentoring-friendship because my mentors believed in me.

It’s my turn to be there for someone.


Joni Kusminsky, JBBBS’ Director of Community Engagement, is a Big Sister. She’ll celebrate her third match anniversary this year.