Military Mentoring Program

Military mentoring

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.

Michaela and Aracely

Michaela and Aracely 2015_3046

A few short years, but a life-long impact. That is the power of a BBBS match.

“It was a match made in heaven,” said Michaela Lindsay, a former Big Sister, “or, really, by you guys at BBBS. My Little Sister, Aracely, and I were matched for 3 years, and it has been the most rewarding experience I could have asked for.”

It was a simple beginning, according to Michaela. After a year of working in Austin, she reached out to BBBS to get involved. “I had always wanted to volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters, but had never had the time in undergraduate school.”

When she did get involved, her match happened quickly. Michaela volunteered as a bilingual mentor to keep her language skills sharp, and she was soon matched with Aracely, a freshman in high school.

“We did a lot of fun things together,” Michaela recalled, “But my favorite memories are those of just relaxing and having coffee and getting onto a topic that I could tell Aracely really wanted to talk about, and then discussing something that was weighing on her mind.”

Such conversations were the reason Michaela committed to the BBBS program. “The activities were fun, but having that close relationship with someone you might not otherwise have met was really rewarding,” she said.

The unexpected part of a BBBS match? “I didn’t anticipate becoming so close to Aracely’s whole family,” Michaela laughed. “After about a year, I was at her parents’ wedding, which was beautiful. And over Christmas we all went to the Trail of Lights together. So I’ve really built a relationship with the whole family that I’m confident will last.”

Three years later, Michaela’s relationship with Aracely is continuing even as Aracely plans for life after high school. “We’re going to stay close for a long time,” said Aracely, who graduated this year. “Michaela has known that I’ve wanted to go into the military since I was nine years old. She’s put me in contact with people, we’ve done research together and learned so much about the military, and now it’s just up to me to make a final decision about where I want to go.”

This beautiful match has not only sparked a lasting connection between a Big and a Little, but also between Michaela and BBBS. Michaela is on a mission to recruit others to volunteer with the agency. “I want to recruit other young professionals,” she said. “I tell them that it is so worth it… that I can’t describe the payback on the time invested. My relationship with Aracely will last a long time, but even if it didn’t, the memories of our relationship will shape me forever.”

Aracely has something to say to people considering participating with BBBS as well. “Having a mentor in my life has been a good thing for me, and there are kids out there who need what I have with Michaela,” she said. “It takes just a little bit of time to make a kid happy or to make their day.”

To put it in terms of effectiveness and impact… “I’ve seen the impact Aracely’s involvement with BBBS has had on her and the confidence it has sparked,” Michaela said. “She will take that with her wherever she goes and whatever she decides to do… and I will as well,” she added.

Michaela and Aracely 2015_2347