By Corrie Hunkler
A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could. ~ Unknown
Thinking back on it, my first (of many) volunteer job was mentoring. It was when I attended high school in my small, isolated fishing community I knew as home. People make their living from the earth, and on the coast of Downeast Maine this can be tough. Wind chill, rough seas, and winter weather are the obstacles fishermen have to deal with when bringing in their living. In the summer our rural area comes alive with the colors of the lobster buoys speckling the sea and the hum of lobster boats working their way through the fog in the early morning. During the winter months, traps are stacked on the wharfs and most boats are brought ashore to rest for the cold. It’s during these times that people tend to go without, people struggle to make ends meet in the long stretch of winter Maine is known for, waiting for the thaw of spring.
I started mentoring during the winter of my Junior year. Basketball was winding down and I found myself restless for something to do, trying to avoid the trouble that people tended to get into when the weather was cold and work wasn’t there. I would bundle up and troop down to the grammar school where my little mentee Emily* was waiting, her feet bouncing and arms waving so happy to get to leave her desk and move. Emily was something else that seemed forgotten in the winter. Most days she looked like all 7 years of her were in charge of getting dressed, brushing her hair and making sure she got outside to catch the bus on time.
I don’t think I had any profound effect on this child’s life. And I know I didn’t have any control over what happened at home (besides admitting my concerns to the guidance counselor), but it was nice to know on those chilly Wednesday afternoons, when maybe no one else was thinking of her. I was there, reading, playing and getting Emily to smile for a little while. Hopefully, that is something she can still hold onto wherever she is.
January is national mentoring month, and it is amazing how easily one person can get involved and help a child like Emily. Studies and research have proven time and again the importance one person who cares can have in a child’s life. If you feel like you have a full plate already, talk to your boss. Most business are happy to give paid time for their staff to be involved with a mentoring program such as Big Brothers Big Sisters or for more opportunities look on VolunteerMaine.org or the Maine Statewide Mentoring Directory.
Corrie Hunkler is an Americorps VISTA in Machias Maine and a guest blogger.