Big Brothers Big Sisters Breakfast
I want to start by putting mentorship into a larger context. Oregon has been dealt about as tough a hand as any state in the nation over the past few years during this great recession. One of my top priorities is to get our economy back on track, and create one that is strong, internationally competitive and insulated from these boom bust cycles while we create those family wage jobs that will drive our per capita income back up above the national average.
The key to doing this lies in our system of public education. Over sixty percent of the jobs that are will be created will require at least an associates degree or a technical certificate.
Giving children the platform for educational success is the foundation for achieving that vision, and successful mentoring is a key to building that platform. We know, and Big Brothers Big Sisters, knows that too many of our kids lack a family and community supports for these strong and independent learners.
Many of those kids come into our school system with a huge achievement gap and many of them never recover from it, lost to our system of social dependency or to our criminal justice system.
What a waste of human potential, what a waste of human capital, and what a loss to our society. Mentoring is the powerful tool to make sure that that doesn’t happen. At its core, mentoring is pretty simple: it involves a trusting relationship between a young person and a caring adult. Mentoring can change lives and mentoring can save lives.
I want to tell you a little story about how mentoring made a difference in my career path.
When I was 15, we moved to Eugene from Hanover, New Hampshire, where my father had a two-year stint at Dartmouth College, and I came from Hanover that had 200 people in the entire high school to South Eugene High School that had about twice as many kids, just in the sophomore class.
I left a group of close friends, I didn’t know anybody, I was lonely and I was widely viewed in the terminology of the day as a “nerd.” I had no interest in going to college – I viewed high school as something that you had to get through, like pulling a bad tooth. Was uninspired to learn and a very poor student.
Then I met a guy names Ralph Hustus who was a retired biology professor from the University of Oregon. And he had something called, a little research lab called the Mouse House that was on the north edge of campus. And he invited me to come visit him after school, which I started doing and then I started going there on the weekends and he taught me small animal surgery and he stimulated an interest in biology, and he convinced me to enter the OMSI Northwest Science Fair. Which I did, and my project was something called a perfusion apparatus -- it allowed one to study isolated organs by keeping them alive outside the body. My first project involved a kidney that I borrowed from my sisters rabbit Clyde, which I removed after anesthetizing the poor beast.
Now I want to let everyone know, particularly Sharon Harmon out at the Humane Society, that Clyde did just fine, he lived another two years, which is a ripe old age for a rabbit, which is about the same amount of time it took me to heal the relationship with my younger sister. But Clyde’s newly liberated kidney found its way into my profusion apparatus, which was a feat made possible by a Rube Goldberg like machine that perfused warm oxidized blood to Clyde’s kidney. And I constructed this machine in my parents basement using a wide range of parts including an old washing machine motor and a pneumatic doorstop, various types of chemical glassware, rubber tubing, a water pump and a heater from a tropical fish tank.
For the blood I would venture out in the early morning hours to the slaughterhouse out in West Eugene, wait for the unfortunate cow to meet its end and rush in with an Erlenmeyer flask and collect my blood. Put in penicillin and a little anti-coagulant.
This collection routine caused me to be late for school and I used to make a blood spattered arrival at first class math period, which cemented my reputation as a “nerd” and possibly a dangerous one. But, it also won me first place in the OMSI Northwest Science Fair in 1965. It gave me a lifelong interest in biology, I went to the University of Oregon and became a straight A student, I transferred to Dartmouth, became interested in medicine and ended up on a completely different career path than I wouldn’t have done otherwise, and all because a kindly retired biology professor reached out to a lonely, confused teenager.
Big Brothers Big Sisters provides a valuable service to the state by keeping kids in school and out of trouble, and also, helping those children who need a second chance.
Big Brothers Big Sisters is a partner in the Second Chance Re-entry Initiative. The Second Chance Act is designed to ensure the transition juveniles make from incarceration to the community is safe and successful. Working in partnership with the Oregon Youth Authority and county juvenile service divisions, mentors meet with the incarcerated youth three to six months prior to the youth's release to help ease their transition back into society.
Big Brothers Big Sisters provides training and support for caring adult volunteer mentors who are helping these young people facing adversity get their lives on track.
Mentorship not only can change the course of lives, it can truly save lives.
A mentor gives a child the capacity to imagine a world of possibility, and to imagine being something else, being anything else. And then provides the guidance to get them there.