It takes a village: Mentoring in smaller communities
I grew up in a small town on the island of Newfoundland. We had a population of about 2,500 people, our K-12 school had around 350 students, and I had about 25 classmates. Unfortunately for myself and many of my peers, we did not have a Big Brothers Big Sisters agency (or any coordinated mentoring program for that matter). Many of us were mentored by caring teachers who went the extra mile, older students in school who may have been volunteer tutors or just kind people, and community members who thought to take young people under their wing. These relationships could be long and meaningful; but often they were a one-off, such as a caring neighbor making sure you wear a helmet while you ride your bike or a friend’s parent checking in to make sure everything is okay at home. In small communities, especially those rural and isolated, mentoring relationships are often vital for forming healthy coping mechanisms, hobby and leisure interests, and active or sporty lifestyles. It wasn’t until I moved to St. John’s (which is still a relatively small city) that I became involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters, an agency that curates and fosters these life-changing mentoring relationships that ignite the power and potential of young people.
I grew up in a village of 500 people. While many consider their home to be the building they grew up in or their immediate family, for me, my home was the community of people I lived with where each person added a little extra value to my life. It was where you could learn to count change from the owners of the grocery store because they always had some extra time. It was where the man in front of the tavern would teach you to ‘live while you’re young, so there’s always something to remember.’ It was where you learned to be empathetic from the banker always taking the time to feed the dogs. It was where a trip to your grandparents in town to learn about the magic of chocolate and canned fruit punch was accompanied by a quick stop at the drugstore to drop off some bags and learn the importance of taking the time to ask about one’s day. It was a post office where your other grandmother would always somehow be when you biked past to ask if you wanted more peas from an everlasting garden. My home was not confined to my own family or the place that I slept. It was a village that raised me. Often there are people around who play a supportive role in our lives without us even realizing. I was lucky to receive that support and then I decided to pay it forward by becoming a Big Brothers Big Sisters mentor to a young person who lived 2 hours away from me.
These stories illustrate acts of informal mentoring that two of our NYMAC members have experienced in their small hometowns. It does take a village to raise a child—as cliché as that may sound – and we can all do our part by connecting young people no matter, where they live, to quality mentoring programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters when additional supports are needed in the life of that young person.