When I was applying for the AmeriCorps position in which I am currently serving, they asked for a writing sample that told a personal story about mentoring and its role in my life (which makes more sense than it might sound like, because the organization I’m serving with works in the mentoring field).
So I wrote about my friend Max. Here’s what I said,
It began with a flier in an old, circular stairwell as I was returning to my dorm room after class one autumn afternoon. “Young boy needs help with homework, especially Math, Science and English. He loves sports, so an interest in sports is a plus.”
“I was always pretty good at those subjects in school,” I thought, and “I love sports.” So, I wrote down the phone number and called that evening. The next week, I spent the first of many Tuesday afternoons with a special young man named Max.
Max is energetic and loves sports, drawing, his three sisters, and he even fancies himself to be a spy once his homework is finished. We spent many afternoons covertly navigating the many nooks and crevices of Max’s old house once we had finished our work for the day. He usually beats me in foosball, and he likes to make sure I remember that fact. Like many of his peers, he plays organized basketball and soccer and goes to summer camp. But unlike most of his peers, the challenges of adolescence are amplified because Max suffers from Down’s Syndrome.
Like other boys his age, he longs for approval and acceptance from his peers. Like other boys his age, he dreams about what he wants to be when he grows up and how exciting the future will be. Like other boys his age, he gets bored and frustrated by too much homework and would rather watch TV than finish it all. And like other boys his age, he struggles to find the words to say to that one special girl who sits just a few desks away during homeroom.
When I responded to that advertisement three autumns ago, I expected to help a young student academically—and we did make progress that way. What I did not expect was to become his confidant, friend, and mentor who helped him deal with life, not just school. I helped him get through his homework when it seemed overwhelming; we talked about his dreams of becoming a fireman, then a spy, and then a professional athlete; and we worked on communicating with other people, from his friends on the playground to that special someone a few desks over. I didn’t expect that type of friendship, but I am deeply grateful for it.
Max’s challenges are unique because of his special needs, but his need for a mentor is not. The challenges he faces are magnified at times, but the needs are universal. Adolescence is a period of both great challenge and extraordinary promise for every young person. And during this formative period, it is essential that mature, caring people take the time to invest in them, to help them overcome the challenges of everyday life.
It’s one of life’s greatest ironies; the more we give of ourselves, the more we receive. I am convinced that I received as much, if not more, from Max than he ever received from me. If you’ve been in a mentoring relationship, you know first-hand how impacting this give-and-take can be. If you haven’t, I would encourage you to find out. But either way, our state is filled with young people like Max, and they’re waiting for someone like you to simply become their friends.
I’ve been serving here for just over seven months now, and these words have been proven true time and again. I’m mentoring again, too. I’m matched with a young man who’s entering the 7th grade this fall. He’s a great kid who just needs a positive influence.
For those of you in the States, you can find a mentoring program to get involved with by clicking here. I’d encourage you to do so; it’s a great way to give a little bit of what you’ve received back into the life of another.