The Rewards of Mentorship

Guest blogger Ryan Tsuji shares his experience of volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hawaii.

I walked into the conference room with our case manager, feeling nervous and anxious. Soon after, he walked into the room with his mother…a shy 12-year-old boy who at an early age had already endured more than most his age would ever have to.  After the formalities and a brief introduction, I looked at him with his head down and simply said, “Hey, this is going to be fun.” 

What might have seemed like a standard introduction for a “Big” and a “Little” in the world of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Organization proved to be the beginning of a life changing journey that both Michael and I were about to embark on. For anyone to really understand Michael, you have to understand his past and the hurt, uncertainties and sorrow that is commonly associated with any child who lost a father. Going into this mentorship, I knew that I would never take the place of his father, but simply wanted to be there for Michael and provide him the encouragement, companionship and mentorship that is often found in an older male figure. 

Early on I quickly realized that despite all that he has had to endure, Michael was a respectful, intelligent and mature young man. Our outings were not elaborate nor involved any long talks to process what life was like for him. But rather, it became an opportunity for us to build a bond and form a friendship of trust that can only be built over time. From going to the movies, playing golf and basketball together and lifting weights, I tried to think of things we could do together that not only peaked his interest, but also provided him some of the same experiences and interactions I had growing up. 

And while our outings together are always fun and engaging, my goal has always been to never worry about what we do, but rather being a consistent figure in his life and allowing him to be himself and feel comfortable enough to tell me anything. As time went on, our relationship began to grow and Michael and I began to build a trust with one another. 

Over the past three years I have seen him grow both in his physical stature and also in his maturity level. An example of this growth is evident in our simple conversations together. In the beginning, I was the one driving the conversations, asking questions and trying to find ways to spark interest and interaction. That has since changed with Michael becoming more engaging, asking me questions and illustrating a genuine interest in my own life. I recognize that these are developing years from Michael and I often have to remind myself of what I was like as a teenager. I am so thankful that he is not the emotional and rude teenager I was at his age and attribute much of his respectful maturity to his mother that is helping him become an exceptional young man. 

This experience for me has been unexpected and rewarding in so many ways. As someone who comes from a broken home and being a younger brother, I often wondered what I would be like to serve in the capacity of an older brother.  I live a pretty crazy life filled with multiple jobs, running my own non-profit and serving on many community boards while trying to find a way to balance it all. But when I committed to being part of this relationship, I recognized that it would be a significant commitment that required time and consistency. While life can get pretty crazy for me and my most valuable resource is often time itself, spending quality time with Michael has become some of the most rewarding moments for me and a respite in my own crazy life. 

It is common to hear organizations, non-profits and charities express their gratitude to have caring and committed volunteers donate their time and resources for their cause. But as a volunteer in the Big Brothers Big Sisters Organization, I feel that the roles are reversed as I feel like I’m the lucky one, welcomed in by this organization and someone who has been accepted and trusted to be included in the life of an amazing young man. The decisions I make in my own life have also been impacted by being a “Big” knowing that my actions and decisions could impact Michael and thus hold me accountable recognizing that I have someone who is looking to me to be a positive influence. 

At its heart, this is an organization that is committed to making a positive difference in the lives of young boys and girls across the country providing each with a positive mentor to do life with. But much more than the impact it has on children, Big Brothers Big Sisters provides its volunteers an opportunity to make a tangible difference in the lives of these “littles” while also integrating the intangible emotions and qualities associated with responsibly, self-worth and significance.  

It is safe to say that I have been truly blessed with the opportunity to see Michael grow from the shy boy I met in a conference room into a confident and educated young man. I am so excited about his future and to see what he will become. I have no doubt that he will succeed at anything and everything he decides to do. The biggest reward I will take away from this experience is being able to have a lifelong bond with Michael and knowing that I may have had a small impact on who he has and will continue to become.