Experience is defined as the knowledge or mastery of an event or subject gained through involvement in or exposure to it. It is one of the key components of mentoring, that of a Big sharing their experience with their Little. Shared experiences are particularly important in a BBBS program you may not know much about – Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Military Mentoring Program.
This special program was created as a way to give back to veterans by offering support for their families. “It’s a gift for the family,” said Ellen Harsch, BBBS enrollment supervisor. “As you know, when a person serves in the military the whole family serves, and they deserve our support.”
The challenges facing military families can be unusually demanding when a family member is missing from the home for months or years at a time. This was the case for Kristina and her son Paul, who had not seen his father in over two years following his dad’s deployment. Before joining BBBS, Paul did not have a good, close role model other than his grandfather.
“Oftentimes veteran families have moved around a lot and there hasn’t been a lot of stability in our kids’ lives,” Kristina said. For Paul, a source of stability came in the form of his Big – Griffin.
“Paul looks forward to his time with Griffin,” Kristina admitted. “He says that Griffin is “the best” and he is very excited when I tell him that Griffin is going to take him for an outing on a certain day.”
Kristina hopes other military families learn about BBBS’ Military Mentoring program. “I would definitely promote BBBS to other veteran families. We are so used to transfers and to our spouses being away and coming back. It is really nice to have another positive role model in our childrens’ lives.”
The program doesn’t just help veteran families, but also vets themselves when they serve as Bigs, like Darryl Frost. “The military is basically leadership training school. It is all about mentoring people,” said Darryl. “You get so involved in soldiers’ lives that you get a lot of experience helping people frame things in a better context. For my teenage Little Brother, I can offer long range perspective on his problems.”
Darryl doesn’t try to tell his Little, Kris, what to do. He simply shares his experience in similar situations, whether it’s relationships or studying for a test. “And Kris will tell me whether it works or not,” laughs Darryl.
Of course the learning doesn’t just happen in one direction. Darryl learns a lot from Kris as well. “Adults have lots of experience, but we sometimes forget what childhood is all about,” Darryl said. “Kris encourages me to have fun in the moment. Being a Big Brother allows me to be part of a teenage world again.”
Serving as a Big also gives him a glimpse of what his 7-year-old son might be like in 5 or 6 years. “Kris talks to me about things he wouldn’t necessarily discuss in the same way with his parents,” Darryl admitted. “When my own son is a teenager, he might want to talk with someone else about things that he won’t necessarily want to share with me.”
Being a military Big also gives veterans an opportunity to connect with the civilian world. “Being a Big sort of grounds you. It is a good way to give back to the community,” said Darryl. “I would encourage all veterans to get involved. Becoming a mentor is a great way to make an impact on the next generation of leaders and to share some of the leadership lessons you’ve gained over your career.”
“I share my experiences from abroad with Kris and it is exciting because he thinks they are so cool. The things that seem normal to me as part of my military career are otherworldly for a teenager who doesn’t have the same world experience. By sharing our experiences, we learn from one another.”
And, at the end of the day, that is the very essence, and heart, of mentoring.