Can you think back to an important person in your life who gave you a nugget of advice that never escapes your mind — or whose advice has shaped your worldview throughout your life?
Some of us may have a Rolodex of these people — influencers who gave us their time and their attention and shared their experiences about what works best in this game we call life.
Some people aren’t so lucky and are often left to fend for themselves, and to figure out life entirely on trial and error. Unfortunately, our society doesn’t reward error — in fact, committing errors early in life can lead to a cycle of failure such as expulsion from school, being laid off from jobs that we rely on to provide housing, and the loss of fundamental human rights.
I always have friends or colleagues who hear about my the service I’ve done and say things like, “That sounds rewarding — I wish I could do that”.
When prodding for more rationale as to why they can’t — they give excuses about being busy. Everyone FEELS busy…but I bet if you deleted one social media account — you would have adequate time to mentor a young person:
- Current mentoring minimum time commitment: 45 min/week
- Current instagram mindless meme-scrolling: 45 min/day
(Added benefit: a clear causal link between decreasing social media use, and improvements in loneliness and depression MIXED WITH the drop in stress, anger, anxiety, and depression that comes with volunteering — double win!)
Benefits of having a mentor:
- Increased high school graduation rates
- Lower high school dropout rates
- Healthier relationships and lifestyle choices
- Better attitude about school
- Higher college enrollment rates and higher educational aspirations
- Enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence
- Improved behavior, both at home and at school
- Stronger relationships with parents, teachers, and peers
- Improved interpersonal skills
- Decreased likelihood of initiating drug and alcohol use
I have served as a mentor in some way/shape/form since 2007 when I first signed up to be a Big Brother at “Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Metro Milwaukee” back in Wisconsin during my undergrad. I don’t think any particular flyer, advertisement, or person influenced or incentivized me — I just knew I had an abundance of free time due to my: 1. lack of partying or general social life, and 2. my academic learning style (avoiding studying at all costs). So, what better way to learn than to get out into the community?”
Along with my free time — I was aware of national programs and nonprofit organizations like Big Brothers, Big Sisters, the Boys and Girls Club, and the United Way. The thing I was not so sure of was how to get involved. On campus, we had a center for civic learning, engagement, and leadership (which is great) but I had absolutely no idea it, or anything like it, existed.
So, I cold-called (or cold-internetted) a few programs — and decided that being a “Big Brother” made the most sense for me and my schedule.
I wanted a brother my entire life. I had “older-brother-type” friends growing up — always a few years my senior, and considered them wise beyond my comprehension (even though their wisdom was mostly applied to the tune of: “You know, you can load two rocks into the slingshot at once” or “Just don’t lean forward after you take off from the ramp”.
I always asked my mom for both a younger brother and a dog — and received neither (both would’ve been expensive messes, so I don’t hold a grudge). When I arrived at college — I still had a longing to be an influential positive role-model and to share the thousands of mistakes I’d made and to hand out nuggets of wisdom and “life pro-tips” as if I was the repository of life cheat codes.
Through a combination of my shyness and the fact that my best friend was my 65-year-old grandma — I was never able to impart this hoarded-knowledge and selfishly clung onto it until, in 2007, at age 19, I met my first mentee: Deonte.
It was a pretty low-commitment gig: show up a couple times a week. Eat some lunch together. Do a bit of studying, homework, and conversation. Then, if time allowed, play some games or go outside and shoot hoops.
We bonded instantly. Nobody would’ve, in 100 years, assumed the amount of similarities we had to one another based solely on our demographics. Regardless of our perceived differences in 2007 — we were both self-conscious chubby kids, raised by a single-mother, who felt like 7th grade was a giant awkward waste of time where we didn’t belong.
I taught Deonte how to play chess and he taught me how to lose in H-O-R-S-E 14 times in a row. Mostly he just wanted to chat with me about nothing in particular — just have me listen to things he’s been interested in, or talk about his family. I didn’t come with any profound answers to life’s big questions. I didn’t have any motivating quotes or one-liners. I just listened — and he loved it. But really, I did a lot less talking than I expected to. I was learning a lot as well — potentially more than Deonte.
This role as a Big Brother snowballed into more opportunities as an inner-city youth mentor for both an after-school program and a “Saturday Academy” weekend program. Through a partnership with the University — I actually got paid a bit to do work I gladly would’ve done for free.
After those three experiences — I got hooked. (READ MORE: My Life of Public Service) I was learning a ton about my city and a variety of different neighborhoods, I was meeting a bunch of cool new people and other mentors, and I felt a sense of “obligation to others” that I had never really felt before in my life outside of building a driveway in cub scouts when I was 10 years old.
There are a plethora of ways to serve as a mentor beyond these structured programs. Since 2007 I’ve served in “Big Brothers, Big Sisters” —but have also assistant-taught 4th grade in Sacramento, California (where 1/3rd of my kids were considered “homeless”), coached a youth baseball team in Corvallis, Oregon (we went from worst to 4th in the state!), and became Uncle Craig to Sami & Tyler.
I currently mentor an 8th grader in Oregon named Morgan. Morgan is an awesome dude who loves action heroes, video games, pizza, and ice cream. I like all of those things-too. Except action heroes — I only really know Batman, Spiderman, the Flash, Deadpool, Superman, and RoboCop (does RoboCop count?!).
I met Morgan through a locally-run lunchtime mentorship program. The upfront commitment: 45-minutes per week. That’s it! I’ll admit — when I arrived back in Eugene, Oregon for my previous job, I had a hard time finding a mentee. The first 3–4 programs I reached out to said their services had been “cut” or were “temporarily on hold”. The lack of local funding and commitment to these mentorship programs was demoralizing — and we had no local “Big Brothers, Big Sisters” program (it had been cut several years prior).
When my job ended at the end of summer — I was asked if I wanted to come back for another year of formalized mentoring with Morgan. He wanted me back as his mentor — and there was no doubt I wanted to be his mentor once again — but with my work contract ending, I wanted to be as geographically mobile as possible and could not formally agree to another year in the program.
Luckily, Morgan’s parents gave me permission to contact him outside of the program — and I’d like to think that our relationship has upgraded from “lunch time mentor/mentee” to “friends”.
I am happy to say my best friend, at age 31, is a 14 year old dude I met at a lunchtime mentoring program.
Get out there, change some lives, & make some friends!
A glowing review about why I am a good friend from my mentee:
Craig Wiroll is a has-been reality television “star”, Asian elephant rehabilitator, waterfall repairman, two-time garlic eating champion, and also worked at Pizza Hut and The White House.
He lives alone with nobody — oftentimes out of the back of his Subaru.