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Mentoring leads to big things in a child's life
Article published on Tuesday, April 8, 2014
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I want to tell you a story about why our community desperately needs to be aware of Big Brothers Big Sisters’ mentoring programs. As a current Big Brother, I hope my story will inspire all who encounter it. So please, take a moment to join me on my mentoring journey and see where it takes you.

Our first meeting was inauspicious. Shaq was barely awake and sat uninterested on the couch. Our first outings were awkward. He was guarded in his responses, and we had little to talk about. After subsequent visits Shaq would always ask me if I was coming back, I assured him I would. I thought to myself, here’s a kid who’s been let down and hurt before.

I made the mistake of many new Big Brothers; I tried to make each outing an event and spent too much money trying to entertain. Shaq was unclear on the Big Brother concept. He thought I was a paid employee and could not believe I was spending my own money on him. As the weeks went on we became more comfortable with each other. Shaq stopped asking if I was coming back. I got to know Shaq’s grandmother, Doris, who raised him since he was a baby.

Our relationship grew and progressed. I’ll never forget our outing to the city recreation pool. Shaq asked me to go on the water slide. Please note that these tubular structures are built to accommodate a 3- to 5-foot child, not the 6-foot, 230 lb. now 60-year-old adult whose body creaks like an old wooden ship at sea for the first half hour of every morning. I tumbled out of the tube with enough speed to force an entire gallon of water up my nose. I landed sputtering and coughing as Shaq negotiated the same slide, no problem. He then pointed to the second slide, a much taller and tortuous structure. Three thoughts went through my mind as I hurtled down the tube:

1. Those are my heels?

2. I’ve never seen the backs of my knees before.

3. This is going to hurt.

I hit the water like an Apollo capsule landing in the Pacific and took in another snootful of water. Unable to speak, I gestured toward the slide as if to say, “Your turn.” Shaq shook his head in disagreement and swam away with a smile on his face. 

“Seriously? Well played my friend,” I said to myself, as I vowed revenge. An anecdote that certainly illustrates the demeanor of our relationship.

Being a Big Brother is easy. First you have to show up and second you have to be there when you’re needed. Someone once said, “Ninety percent of life is just showing up.” Being there is the other half of the equation. It’s just that easy and just that complex. Just like life.

Shaq and I spend two-three hours together every Saturday. We’ve been together for six years. We talk about serious issues. We laugh at each other and at ourselves. We talk about inconsequential issues. We shoot basketball, bowl, run errands, go to movies, clothes shop and occasionally we’ll do something special like Busch Gardens. Neither of us understands women. I enjoy his company and I respect the man he has become.

We set only one goal – for Shaq to graduate with his class. This seemingly innocuous goal takes on new meaning when you realize that only 21 percent of black males in Pinellas County schools actually graduate – and Shaq will be one of them. He’s not coasting. He is working hard, even taking night classes, and has been on the honor roll most of his senior year. I could not be prouder. Shaq isn’t going to get an academic scholarship to Princeton and he won’t be a running back at the University of Florida. This is not a Hollywood movie. What Shaq does have is a shot at a college education and a future.

I’ve thought long and hard about what words of wisdom I want to say to Shaq on graduation night. What can you say to a young man who has come so far? I’m a collector of quotes. I settled on two quotes that cover all the vagaries of life. Here is what I’ve come up with: Shaq, always remember, “I before E except after C” and quoting Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never, never give up.” 

The message I’d like to share with you and your readers today is that there are so many children, just like Shaq, who are waiting for someone like you to be their mentor and friend. In fact, there are more than 175 young boys and girls who are ready to be matched Today at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pinellas County.

Will you embark on a personal mentoring expedition? Call Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pinellas today to learn more about how you can start something big in the life of a child, at 518-8860 or visit their website at www.bbbspc.org.

Roger Covey lives in St. Petersburg.
Article published on Tuesday, April 8, 2014
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