The Power of Mentorship

Dennis Brown
January 11, 2017

As part of National Mentoring Month, Dennis Brown, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Hawaii, shares the inspiring story of Hawaii’s first beneficiary of the 51-year old mentoring program.

Emotional well-being is just as important as physical well-being. Sometimes the adversity in a child’s life can be overcome by friendship. Take the story of the first Little Brother in Hawaii’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

His Caucasian father met his mother in Japan during World War II. They married and moved to the Midwest where the boy loved playing with his dad in the snow or on the baseball field.

But when he was four, the boy’s happy life and dreams were shattered by his parents’ divorce. His mother moved with him to Hawaii where she felt the cultural environment would be better for her hapa-haole children.

They struggled financially and emotionally and lived in low-income housing, surrounded with lots of negative influences. The boy missed his father terribly and realized he would probably never see him again. He acted out his anger and grief on his mother and in school.

When the boy turned 10, he was matched with a man named Henry Sumida who volunteered to be the first Big Brother in Hawaii. Initially, the boy was rebellious and hard to get to know. He wasn’t keen about having a Big Brother and, like a lot of kids who lose their fathers, was resentful of anyone trying to take his place.

But Henry opened new worlds to this boy from Kalakaua Housing. They went bowling and played tennis, which were both new experiences for the boy. They built model airplanes together and went to movies and parks.

Even more important than the activities was the emotional connection. They always ended their outings with conversation over dessert. “Henry was such a good listener,” the boy recalled. “I was very withdrawn, angry at the world, and felt I was a victim of divorce. But here was someone who listened to me vent. He was the friend I really needed then.”

Years later, the boy remembered how Henry had been in the Air Force and told him that GI Bill benefits were a good way to pay for college. He wasn’t sure about college, but had kept that idea in mind and decided to join the Air Force too. Little did he know that Henry’s advice would be the road to a college education, graduate school, and a great career.

“During my military years, I realized what a positive influence Henry had been for me,” he said. “I decided I wanted to help people the way Henry and others had helped me. It’s only when you get older that you realize those little moments have had a life-altering effect on you.”

We’ve all had someone who mentored us. Big Brothers Big Sisters is about relationships. Just a few hours a month that support a child’s emotional health can help him or her become a more confident and caring individual.

By the way, Hawaii’s first Little Brother is now President/CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Hawaii. That lucky boy was me.

For more on Big Brothers Big Sisters Hawaii, visit

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