I got involved as a Big Brother when I was a freshman at Brandeis University. I was drawn toward volunteering as a Big because of the possibility of creating a one-to-one, meaningful mentoring relationship. Many different Littles joined the program, and the one commonality was that the Littles needed an extra person in their life, regardless of the reason.
So it began, a friendship with a 10-year-old, who, let’s just say, wasn’t the biggest fan of being in the program and especially unexcited about meeting a complete stranger (who is?!). But with patience, perseverance and a genuine interest in his life, that non-interested Little has become a close friend in a friendship that has lasted over nine years.
I still think about the activities we’d do together: whether it was playing in his backyard, playing video games, scootering around his neighborhood or just getting something to eat and talking. Sure, we don’t speak as much as we used to when I was at Brandeis and the years immediately after—maybe we get together once a year, but we remain connected through the friendship we share and created together.
I cannot speak to the impact, if any, that I had on my Little. But I can speak to the impact that being a Big Brother had on me. From my volunteer experience, the true importance of a one-to-one friendship was cemented in my mind forever. A one-to-one relationship, where you are the focus of that person and vice versa; where the person feels understood and that they matter in this world; it’s difficult to put into words the significance that can have on someone.
Even though I started volunteering with JBBBS because I wanted to help someone, little did I know that I would receive just as much help and transformation through the process of volunteering. I got to see someone become the person they wanted to be. What a priceless gift—and privilege—to be trusted enough to witness such growth. As a result of the volunteering with Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters, I knew I wanted to pursue a career that would allow me to continue to witness growth for as many people as possible. Volunteering with JBBBS set me on the career path that I am on today.
After two years of volunteering, I became one of the Brandeis University Big Siblings coordinators. In this role, we formed a partnership with—surprise, surprise—JBBBS. For the next two years as I finished college, I served as one of the liaisons between Brandeis and JBBBS. We recruited Bigs from Brandeis for their children’s program, did as much volunteer match support as we could, and then let JBBBS handle the rest (which was a lot!). It was incredible getting to partner with JBBBS and seeing how much their staff cared; caring not just about the numbers in their program, but caring for the people in their program.
Fast forward three years, and I was graduating with my master’s in social work from Boston College and a passion to continue working with people. I received training in a variety of therapeutic modalities. And do you know the one tenant all those modalities share? The importance of a relationship. Therapeutic progress rarely, if ever, happens without the relationship. The relationship is such a powerful force that it’s the common thread between all therapies. Before you can move toward change, you need to have a relationship built on trust, compassion and understanding.
Today, I am a clinical match specialist in the JBBBS Friend 2 Friend Adults with Disabilities Program. I have the opportunity and honor to work with adults in the community who have disabilities and who, just like my Little so many years ago, are just looking for that one extra person in their life. I manage a caseload of community matches and run three MAGIC groups. It’s hard not to reflect on how this journey started for me—a scared first-year student at Brandeis who just wanted to make a difference. Now, I have the privilege of witnessing and supporting others make a difference to those in the program. I get to watch new friendships bloom and older friendships thrive. Right before my very eyes, I get to see people internalize that they are understood and that they matter.
What else could I ask for?
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