Stories

Joanna and Weronika

Joanna is a practicing lawyer, and has been a mentor of 10-year-old Weronika since October of 2015. Here is how she describes her unique relationship:

Why I decided to become a mentor

Throughout my life, I have received much and been able to draw upon that which I have received. Therefore, I believe that I have both the capability and the capacity, which, if only used for my benefit, are wasted. I want to fully engage in the relationship with Weronika – my mentee. Since resigning from my pro bono legal activity, I have become very involved in volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Poland.

My first encounter with Weronika

Before the first meeting I wasn’t stressed, but I wasn’t sure if I would be able to understand and relate to my Little…if I would be able to read all of her signals.
I wanted her to feel safe to prosper from our relationship. In the beginning, Weronika was very hesitant to confide me. It seemed like she was holding back and afraid to be up front and honest about what was on her mind. I tried to be as conscious of and sensitive to her needs as possible, doing my best to understand her way of thinking and where she was coming from. This is something I strive to do just as much now I did before.

The process of getting to know each other

At the start of our relationship, I was very preoccupied with the process of organizing meetings because I knew so little about Weronika. I tried so hard to ensure that each meeting was interesting to her, but at the same time, I knew so little about what she liked and disliked that I just ended up trying to find activities that were new and different. To be honest, aside from what her mother shared with me, and some of the insight provided by our Relation Specialist, it was very hard to tell how Weronika felt about the things we tried until she started opening up. Over time, I was able to learn more and more about her. Our interactions and conversations became much more open and free. Weronika’s mother was also very helpful in communicating her daughter’s needs, such as if she wanted help at school or with something she was working on.

Time together

Over time, I have come to understand what Weronika enjoys the most, what makes her happy. Interestingly enough, it is not necessarily the rare or unique events that are the most appealing to her, but rather the simple activities and moments that prove the most special, such as when we sit and do needlework or cook dinner together.

Our relationship

I have always been eager to build a strong relationship with Weronika so that she feels very comfortable and safe and is able to get the most out of our interactions. We have met many times, but there was one activity in particular, an international carol singing event, that still stands out to me today. People from all over the world came to sing Christmas carols and play various instruments. At the beginning, Weronika hid behind me and was very intimidated by everything going on around her. In time, she saw me playing the guitar and took up a drum, falling into the rhythm and beginning to sing along. Before I knew it, she was fully engaged in the atmosphere, playing and talking with everyone. We were both delighted!

Together we help others

The best time is when we do something together, when we have a common purpose, any common task that we are both committed to. Weronika is very family-oriented and likes to work as a team, so I try to cater our activities towards this type of interaction.  The church I am a part of has a special Christmas tradition that I thought she would love. Every year, around the holidays, they compile letters from children in need about their Christmas hopes and dreams. Last year,
I went with Weronika and helped her select the one she liked the most. She chose a note from a young boy named Romek, who described his situation and how he longed for a pair of shoes and an mp3 player. We then took the letter and headed off to the mall. Together, we searched for a pair of fun, practical, and durable shoes we both liked, as well as the perfect mp3 player, before returning home. We were tired, but we decided to see things through, so after grabbing dinner, we took some time to wrap the gift and respond to the letter. Weronika even wanted to be present at the handover, so we went to the church and left the gift. Together, we made a difference in the life of another person. It was a truly special experience.

We overcome difficulties

Weronika struggles with her language courses in school, so we sometimes practice English and Spanish during our time together. In this way, we complement each other.

I am also learning

Weronika has taught me the importance of communicating with others in a constructive way, and encouraged me to be patient and find creative ways to do so. She has many opinions, which she clearly expresses, and which are deserving of respect. While I want to teach her many things, I also need to acknowledge her point of view and take it into consideration. Because of this, I am becoming more sensitive to other people, confronting the problem of tunnel vision by not assuming that I always know best. I cannot and do not want to pressure Weronika to do anything, so I try to find new ways of conveying my thoughts and beliefs without forcing them upon her.

What gives me our friendship

Sometimes, after work, I can be grumpy and tired. But knowing that I’ve agreed to meet with Weronika allows me to snap out of this apathetic state and mobilize. I owe it to her to make the most of our time, and truthfully, when meeting with her, my fatigue and gloomy temperament fade with ease. I love it,
I love the time we spend together.

 

Maciej and Hubert

Maciej Kaniowski is a director in one of the large industries in Warsaw. He has been a mentor for 14-year-old Hubert since February of 2015.

Our relationship

Mentoring is not like being a substitute parent. It is a relationship with an older adult figure who shares what he or she has learned from personal experiences over time. For Hubert and me, a very important element of our relationship is the ability to talk about the world around us and exchange views with one another.

We talk a lot

Hubert is great – he has a very rich vocabulary and loves to talk. At the beginning of our relationship, it was a loose exchange of opinions on various topics, but at this point it has become a full dialogue. You can see that after a year-and-a-half, Hubert feels comfortable enough in our relationship to ask questions about anything. I’m happy that he has developed his own opinions about many different topics, and we talk about each one of them. I want him to have the freedom to share every fleeting thought that may pop into his head. The topics range from the mundane like football to the affairs of the heart and even the concept of religion, but regardless of the subject, it is always very interesting.

We deal with problems

We often discuss the question of how to best confront a problem: what should we do when something does not go our way, is the issue worth our time and effort to deal with, what are the potential outcomes and what to do to achieve better results. It seems this is a complex never-ending subject that resurfaces in all areas of life – how to respond when the going gets tough and what to do when things just aren’t going our way.

Together we come to interesting conclusions

Hubert is very mature for his age. At the beginning of our relationship, I was worried that he might be too mature for someone so young –just 14 years of age. Much of his thinking was along the lines of, “it will probably be impossible”, “it might not work”, or “it would have been nice to play in Liverpool, but…”. Now
I often hear him refer to things much more optimistically, on the principle that there is not necessarily a single target that you have to chase, but rather, there are ongoing passions that can be developed and nurtured. Thanks to that, there is no need to worry about pressure and expectations, and it is possible to focus on the present life, which may become a great future.

We spend time together

What do we do? We talk a lot, often at meals. Hubert likes to try new things, and I really appreciate this in him. It is a personality trait that guarantees an interesting life. Sometimes we reach for new activities and so we become more at home in the water or try new foods – we both now love sushi. From the beginning, the idea was that what we do should happen naturally. I didn’t want to suddenly create an environment that was different from his everyday life. At the same time, I try to find things that are new to him, things he has not yet experienced and that might help him to make mindful decisions.

Personal fulfillment in the relationship

This relationship gives me a lot of joy, and it gives me this feeling that it’s worth it to share my time. I work a lot, so it’s easy to focus only on myself – I’ll run, I’ll go to play tennis, I’ll go to the coffeehouse. Thanks to my family, and now thanks to Hubert I have something that engages me, something to do that gives me a true sense of pride and accomplishment.

Turning point

One of the milestones of our relationship was the moment when Hubert first called me (I usually do the calling) to ask if I had time, and if we could meet. It was so cool that he felt comfortable enough to do something like that, and that he truly wanted to spend his free time together with me. Hubert’s mother’s open-mindedness and acceptance of our relationship is very important here. It is not only big-hearted and responsible, but it also very difficult to give your child space to grow beyond a parent’s protective wings.

It taught me a lot

This relationship is very important to me because of its nature: on the one hand it’s very close, on the other it’s open and friendly. It has taught me a lot – taught me to change the way I look at myself, to cut myself some slack. Instead of continuously being in work mode: going, pushing forward, trying to compensate for lost time, I feel much more calm, relaxed, and free of tension knowing that I can just let things happen. Besides time with my family, spending time with Hubert is the only occasion that I have to do this.

Don’t miss out

Age, experience, and freedom go hand in hand with responsibility. If I can in some way support and help to shape the way an amazing young man like Hubert comes to view the world, and just guide him to his own conclusions, that is a truly rare opportunity that ought not to be missed.

Armen and Tyler

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I first met Tyler, my Little Brother through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, in 2003, when he was only 11 years old. I remember how nervous I was the first day I met with Tyler. Was he going to like me? Would we like the same things? How can I be the cool Big Brother to an 11 year old? We met and awkwardly walked to my car to go on our first
outing.  It was all so new, I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I could never have expected how much this relationship with Tyler would come to mean to me.

Over the past 11 years, I have learned more and more about Tyler and the many challenges he and his family face. Tyler was raised by his mother, a single mom who also raised an older daughter, Summer. For the past 22 years, his mom has struggled to provide food, shelter, support and love to Tyler and his sister. As you can imagine, it’s been pretty tough to say the least. But she did an amazing job in raising and caring for them on her own.

As I watched Tyler mature, some of his challenges got him in trouble several times. We talked about the mistakes he made and I would tell him that I had made mistakes as well. I think the most important thing I was able to do was to be there for him and make sure he knew that he could always call on me, and I would respond, unconditionally, with his best interests as my top priority.

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These past 11 years have been rewarding, seeing Tyler mature from an 11-year-old boy who would squirt water guns at me to a 22-year-old young man today, who at 6 feet 7 inches tall, is not so little anymore! Those water gun fights were a fun way to get to know each other, but we also had some tough conversations in middle school about drugs and other risky behaviors. When he entered high school, the conversations were even more serious, as we talked about his future after school, college and the career choices he was thinking about. Over the past 11 years, Tyler and I have done so many things together it would be impossible to list them. We introduced the Attorney General of Texas at a press conference, went to a professional football game, visited a presidential library, went swimming, watched movies, spent Thanksgiving together, celebrated our birthdays, talked about life and about music and so much more. Simply, we spent time together.

When Tyler decided to join the Navy, I was very proud of him. He wanted to combine his love for engineering with the armed forces and also be able to pay for college after leaving the Navy. Our relationship wasn’t always easy but it was meaningful and had a big impact on my life. Tyler knew and knows now that I’ll always be there for him and that means a lot to him.

Big Brothers Big Sisters checked in with us regularly to see how things were going, and they provided support and guidance to us whenever we needed it. Through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, Tyler and I have developed what I know will be a life-long friendship.