By Matthew Beckman, Big Brother
The start of my journey to Big Brothers Big Sisters began in my last year in college, four years ago. I worked extremely hard to become a success, which to me meant being on the dean’s list, leading a successful community student organization, and genuinely helping people. My idea of “genuinely helping people” began to shift to the goal of gaining enough community service hours to earn a community service award from the President of the United States.
In all aspects I was a success. I graduated from college and got a fantastic job at a local company. At that local company, I was lucky enough to be appointed as a diversity ambassador, write a column for the Cincinnati Business Courier, and be the youngest member of a very well-known community organization.
It wasn’t until I went through a shift in my personal life that I started to question everything I was doing. I quit my local job for a church position that I thought was going to be my passion, ended a long-term relationship, and began to see what was out in the world. I was a young man that went from job to job, did stand-up comedy gigs, and did improv. I was very fortunate to finally find a career I was really passionate about and extremely content with. With that, I left stand-up comedy and improv. I began to date and spend more time with friends, but there was always something missing.
With everything I went through in my mid-twenties and how far I had come, I wanted to give back in an effort to share my experiences and genuinely serve – not for awards, not for credit, but to genuinely give of myself. That started my search for community service opportunities. I sent out feelers to non-profits, but it didn’t feel right. I then saw an ad on a website for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Something clicked in my heart with the organization and I wanted to pursue it without deep research or personal ideals.
There was an extensive application process and a very personal interview. During my interview, I opened up like I never had before. I shared what I had been though and how I thought I could help. I remember how great it felt to share and open up like that to the Enrollment Specialist. I was very vulnerable and it was extremely hard as a man. What came of my vulnerability and honesty was amazing. I was able to be matched with a teenager who was really struggling in his life, who was in need of a mentor and was on his last straw. His family had tried everything from social services, suspension, and even the court system. I wanted to help and felt my calling to him. The Enrollment Specialist and Big Brothers Big Sisters took several weeks of deliberation and time to select him for me. I gave a lot of trust in them and finally got the call that we were matched. I was very cautious and had a lot of questions. The Enrollment Specialist was very patient with me and was honest about everything. I really appreciated that and it speaks a lot about the organization.
When we had our first meeting, there was such a warm feeling in the household. The Enrollment Specialist introduced me to the grandmother of my to-be Little Brother. I remember how kind and appreciative she was. It made me feel wonderful and right at home. My Little Brother came down the stairs. He was really shy at first, but the Enrollment Specialist was very energetic and put us all at ease. After introductions and explaining the rules, we got to go on our first outing.
We went to get his favorite food, which was chicken. We sat down and began talking about our favorite video games, music, and culture icons. I remember thinking to myself I can’t believe how much we have in common. After that we took a walk in the park. Our conversation turned personal and we were talking about our lives and struggles. He was going through a lot at the time. I remember him telling me how he was stupid. I turned to him and said, “You aren’t stupid. With the way you articulate your words and the things you do, you are not stupid.” After that, I saw a shift in his body language. He stood a little straighter and even pronounced his words better.
On our second outing we began to talk and share jokes. I laughed harder than I have laughed in my whole life with this young man. We started to create inside jokes and laugh more, creating a bond. In our time together, we had deep talks about our personal lives. I shared my experience with him to relate to him. I always gave the added context, “I share this so you can learn from my experience, not to boast of my wrongdoings”. He really appreciates these moments and my vulnerability.
We share in so many commonalities from hobbies, music interests, and our personal lives. We have had a lot of breakthroughs and really hard conversations that men don’t normally have. We share our feelings and thoughts.
After a few months, he explained that he is doing really well in school and is behaving really well at school. I was really pleased to hear that and gave him a lot of credit. He sometimes explains that he is behaving so he can continue doing fun activities with me, but I am quick to say that it is him that is making the decisions and it all has to do with him. A few months later he began to get in advanced courses and even wants to get into Harvard. I keep telling him that anything is possible and give him advice on what he needs to do to get into such a selective school.
I have never met a 13 year-old with such amazing character, kindness and compassion even after all he has been through. I saw him help a young girl hang up her laser tag gear, because she couldn’t do it herself. She didn’t ask for help, he just did it. I consider myself lucky to mentor this young man. I am quick to explain to him that there is more to the world than wealth and success, though. The positive impact you have on other people will speak volumes to the world and others.
He has never had a consistent male presence in his life and I told him that I want to be there for him. The smallest things make the largest difference. For example, saying I will be there at 1:00pm to pick him up and arriving at 1:00pm. He knows he can depend on me. I am fortunate enough to be able to teach him many things. I teach him about manners, how to have respect for himself and others, and how uncommon each of those are in our egocentric world. I teach him how to treat women properly, to hold open doors, smile, and always express gratitude to others. I also teach him that it’s okay to make mistakes and how to correct them in the future. Lastly, I teach him it’s okay to look up to me as long as he understands that I am human and very far from perfect.
I encourage all men – young and old – to become a Big Brother. You will learn more about yourself from being a Big Brother than anything else. Trust me, I have explored all angles that society tells us to go. When you help a child or teenager, you are giving – and also gaining – so much more. The things you gain are perspective, purpose and selflessness. All of these qualities are intangible and do not have monetary value. Your life will change if you put everything into being a Big Brother and trust the process in such a positive way.