I greatly enjoy getting out into the community and connecting and serving whenever I can. Mentoring at Hairgrove Elementary allows me to do both. This is my third year mentoring students. I always look forward to stepping onto the campus and seeing my nametag printing as I reach the front desk. It makes me feel like an honored guest. As I wait for my mentee in the cafeteria (the term “mentee” sounds so esoteric- I prefer to call him “My Little Buddy”), I love to look at the array of whimsical artwork and read the “positivisms” posted on the walls. To protect my friend, I’m not going to use his name as I tell his story.
This little guy is a third grader. He is bright-eyed, intelligent, and loves to draw cars and sharks. He gave me an art lesson one time, and he is also an excellent instructor– perhaps he’ll be a teacher some day! He loves to play soccer and chess, and on the other side of the spectrum, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Uno… definitely the best of both worlds. He has a ready smile and charmingly calls me, “Mr. Jefferson.”
My friend lives with an aunt and uncle. His mother is somewhere in a neighboring country with her two other children. He hasn’t seen his mom in about five years. I didn’t probe or ask questions about his family as I know it was a source of pain in his life. But one day he brought a little photo album. As we walked to the library for our 30-45 minutes of fun, I was curious as to what it contained. To my delight, it was filled with photos of him as a baby with his mother. She had written a few descriptions on the back of some of the photos, which he read to me– almost as if he had these precious words memorized. There was hope and sadness in his voice, as he told me in confidence about his mother. I felt a tremendous sense of honor that My Little Buddy would trust me in this way. He was inviting me into a private place in his heart, which let me know he trusted me. I was deeply moved. As a result, I was able to remind him how much his mother loved and cared for him, and how fortunate he was to have such a loving mother. He listened attentively, drinking in every word like it was ice-cold Mountain Dew. When he closed the photo album, I knew he was through. We sat quietly for a few moments and switched to competitive-mode, playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Uno. He proceeded to beat me fair and square.
What I’ve learned from spending time with My Little Buddy is that no moment is wasted. The weeks and weeks of 30 minute meetings where we seemingly just laughed and goofed around compounded to the point where he felt known and valued. And he wanted to reward me by revealing a facet of himself that he doesn’t often uncover. I was then able to speak encouragement to his little heart and communicate to him, “You matter! You have great worth and value!”
These 30-45 minute mentoring sessions were the highlights of my day. I got the chance to play, laugh, mooch some of his Cheese Nips, and build a friendship based on trust. At our last mentor meeting in May, My Little Buddy gave me a hug, looked up at me hopefully, and asked if he would see me when he got into fourth grade. I said, “Absolutely!” I joked and told him maybe we’d still be meeting even when he got into college. He thought that was funny. It’s been a long time since I’ve looked forward to the beginning of school! This Fall I can’t wait to return to Hairgrove, get my pre-printed nametag, pick My Little Buddy out of the cafeteria crowd, and pick up where we left off.
written by Jeff Chapman