Walking up to the porch to meet Viontae for the first time, I remember being uncharacteristically nervous. It didn’t help that it was summer time, and his entire family was out on the front porch waiting to meet me.
After meeting his mother, three brothers, grandma, and numerous cousins, I headed out on my first excursion with Viontae. The conversation was mostly one-sided as you can imagine, but over time he warmed up to me.
That was the pattern for the first few months of our relationship – slow-starting but strong finishing. Each visit ended with discussion of the next time we would get together and have fun. As a big brother, that’s a good sign that things are going well.
Viontae and I were great together, but what wasn’t great was the stability of his home and school life. In the two years that I have been his big brother, Viontae has lived in six different homes and attended five different schools.
Within those moves, communication between us has been a major issue. On multiple occasions, I have shown up to an empty home where Viontae had recently moved from without telling me.
Without a consistent working phone or internet source, our communication was sporadic at best. Out of the blue, I would receive a phone call from a mystery number with Viontae on the other end telling me his new address. This was obviously not his fault, but it was affecting his grades and behavior in school.
With all of this unpredictability in his life during such a critical growth period for a middle-school boy, I knew that I had to stick with him and try to bring some consistency to his life. As challenging as it was at times, I made sure that I got to hang out with him a few times each month. If I couldn’t reach him on the phone, I drove to his house. If he wasn’t home, I drove to wherever he was just to say hi and plan our next day out.
Over the past six months, Viontae and his family have been living in the same home and he has attended the same school. He is continuously showing signs of maturity and growth both in and out of school.
It would be impossible to know how much impact I have had, but I can tell you that there is no better feeling than seeing him happy. Progress is not seen overnight, but being a steady presence over the past two years has improved both of our lives.
With the new year here, I encourage anyone that really wants to make a difference in a child’s life to become a mentor. Having a consistent, positive role model can make differences beyond what you may expect.
--Brad Shupe, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana mentor, and clinic director, ATI Physical Therapy
Editor's note: Through agencies like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana and others, your undesignated gifts to United Way helps match mentors like Brad with young people to help them become the next generation of caring, confident and competent adults.