When I was a little boy, I wasn’t sure exactly what my role was as a son. I came from divorced parents who did not get along and communicated only in necessity. That was life and I rolled with it. I saw my father every other weekend. We watched war movies, kung-fu movies, and sports, none of which I was interested in or liked, but I did it because I wanted to be like dad. As I grew older, I was better able explore the possibilities life had to offer me. I developed my own interests, none of which were remotely close to those of my father. We grew even farther apart, to the point that we rarely spoke. We had nothing to say to each other. By the time I was a teen, it was like I was an alien from a remote planet in a galaxy far, far away. At the time, I hated my dad for not caring, not trying to understand where I was coming from or what I was dealing with. To him, my problems appeared miniscule compared to the highlights of the previous New York Mets game. To this day I despise the Mets…Go Cubs! Anyway, we never really re-connected. The father and mentor I desperately wanted was a dream of the past. By the time I realized that he had done the best he had known how to do, he had died of cancer. I learned more about what he did and did not stand for after his passing than I did the entire time he was alive. Of course by that time it was too late.
I looked elsewhere for acceptance and approval that I did not have to try so hard for. I was naïve. I thought I was effectively dealing with my anger and resentment with a cheap bottle of booze. I thought I was taming my rebellion with substances because that was the only substance I had in my life. In my own mind, I was a success. Looking back on those years, I agree. I was a success. I was successful at destroying my life. And even more of a success, I survived when I had friends that didn’t.
One day this family came along who for some reason, believed in me when I had no faith in myself. All of a sudden I had people in my life that would not push me away and kept coming back after I made mistakes and allowed me to learn from them and accept them for what they were…mistakes. They did not allow me to give up or become the victim of my own doing. When I needed someone the most, they were there to listen and offer advice without passing judgment, but they were also there to provide discipline with caring, not an iron fist. The family mentored me and continues to do so today. For that I am blessed. Without this relationship, I may not have survived.
You are probably wondering why I have chosen to share this with you. Daily when we turn on the local news, open the newspaper, and read blogs we see stories of how important mentoring is. Unfortunately many of us make excuses as to why we cannot mentor. Yes, we are all busy. We all have a great deal on our plates. We all have responsibilities to attend to. The children of our community are one of those responsibilities. They should be a priority. We cannot turn our backs on those who need supervision, nurturing, a helping hand, and an open ear. If we do then the sense of community is lost, its value depleted.
I have devoted the last 4 years of my life trying to serve the youth in Tippecanoe County, whether it be through my work within the Juvenile Justice System in Tippecanoe County, as a big brother though the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Program, or through my lovely daughter’s Girl Scout troop. I started these relationships believing that I could make a difference in a child’s life. It did not take long to realize that they also impacted my life for the better. The fact is, we are all teachers as well as students. We are all mentors as well as mentees. We are neighbors. We are a community of neighbors. As a community we need to stop talking about the impact we can make on the children right here in front of us and start making that impact. Together our children can be better. Together we can be better. Our community can be better.
January is National Mentoring Month. I challenge those of you reading this to consider the words above and ask yourself, “What can I do to make a difference in a child’s life?” Once you answer this question, do it. Time is priceless. For as little as one hour a week, we have the potential to save lives, improve graduation rates, reduce substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse… the list goes on and on. One hour a week has the ability to do this and doesn’t cost a penny. Isn’t it worth it?
Written by Mike Prickett, Past Vice Chair of the Drug-Free Coalition of Tippecanoe County and Former Juvenile Program Facilitator at Tippecanoe County Juvenile Alternatives. Mike recently moved to Ohio to be closer to family. He will be greatly missed in our community!