Throughout National Mentoring Month, we will be highlighting different perspectives on The Mentor Effect from community leaders across Massachusetts. Today's perspective comes from Wendy Foster of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay. Wendy is President & CEO at BBBSMB, and has more than two decades of executive leadership experience in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors.
Why do you believe mentoring is important?
Mentoring is a great way to positively impact a child in a deep, meaningful way. In fact, it is one of the most successful youth development strategies ever invented! Children are like sponges; they soak up everything by constantly observing and watching the adults around them. Through the adults in their lives, they learn values, right from wrong, and how to form relationships. Ensuring that children, especially those facing adversity, have a supportive relationship with at least one non-familial caring adult is a critical element of healthy youth development.
Interestingly enough, mentoring’s impact isn’t just for the benefit of a child. Volunteering has actually been shown to reduce stress and even boost our immune system. And if that’s not enough volunteering as a mentor with a child is so much fun! My Little Sister’s free spirit, sense of play and unbounded curiosity, as well as being reminded what the world looks like through the eyes of a child, never fail to put a smile on my face.
Finally, as CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay and mentor myself, I can attest to the fact that you will get so much more out of the experience of being a mentor than you could ever imagine; and I’m not the only one who thinks so! I’ve had the great privilege of meeting hundreds of Big Brothers and Big Sisters every year, and over and over they tell me that they are getting more out of the experience than they are giving, and ever thought they could. Becoming a mentor is one of the most rewarding things you will ever do.
Who are some of your mentors and what impact did those individuals have on your life?
My daughter Alexandra (“Alex”) is my hero and one of my mentors. When Alex was two-years-old, she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, a chronic life-threatening disease caused by the inability of the pancreas to produce insulin.
Because our bodies need insulin to access energy stored in our blood, Alex has to give herself insulin injections every day. She also monitors her blood sugar levels multiple times a day by drawing blood with a finger prick.
Too much insulin and Alex can have a low blood sugar reaction, which can result in unconsciousness, seizure and death. Too little insulin and Alex can have high blood sugar, which can lead to blindness, heart disease, amputation of hands and feet, or death. It’s a very fine line to walk.
Alex has to deal with a life-threatening disease every day. She can never take a vacation from juvenile diabetes. She has to be constantly vigilant. She has to wear a medic-alert medallion in case she is found unconscious. She has to worry about the long-term damage her disease is causing to her body.
Yet in spite of this heavy burden, Alex is a joyful, caring, confident young woman who refuses to let her disease define or limit her. She never complains. She inspires me with her positive attitude and reminds me to keep my challenges in perspective. No matter what I am dealing with, it usually pales in comparison to the decisions and situations she deals with day in and day out.
I believe mentors come in all shapes, sizes -- and ages. Aristotle is quoted as saying, “You will never do anything in this world without courage.” Alex shows me through her example what courage really means and inspires me to be courageous too.
To learn how you or your business can get involved, visit www.massmentors.org.