Twelve Years and Counting
After her kids had all grown up and moved out, Donette Griffin missed being involved with youth. The company she works for in Blue Grass Iowa would regularly send out emails inviting employees to mentor youth through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Muscatine Count. Employees were encouraged to have lunch with mentees during the week. Finally, she reached out to her boss to ask about getting involved.
“I was very involved with my own kids’ activities,” Donette explains. “I see the difference in kids with parents who are involved versus kids whose parents aren’t. I wanted to be there for other kids, to be an adult presence for kids who didn’t have that.”
In her now twelve years of mentoring, Donette has been matched with the same mentee, Robert. She says it was difficult at first because neither expected to be matched with someone of a different gender. “I didn’t mind when they told me they had a little boy who needed a mentor,” Donette says. “But he was very shy at our first meeting, and would barely look at me or speak.”
Donette says the two got to know each other by playing games at first. Robert would pick a game from the buddy bucket and they would find ways to laugh and talk with each other during the game. “It’s how we communicated, and it grew from there.”
When they meet now, says Donette, “We don’t even look at the buddy bucket—we just sit and talk. The time just flies by.”
Robert was going through a difficult time when he was matched with Donette at a young age. His father had recently been in a horrific accident and it was possible that he wouldn’t make it. His mom was frequently gone, spending time in the hospital. Robert was distraught and began opening up to Donette, often asking what would happen if his dad died. Donette did her best to support and guide him through his father’s eventual recovery, being there to listen and affirm Robert when he needed it. After many surgeries, Robert’s dad began healing, and is now living with a disability and has found a stable job.
In junior high, Robert began getting into fights and struggling academically. As a mother of her own kids, Donette had to remind herself that her role as Robert’s mentor was very different. “I had to learn not to treat him as my own child. It was very difficult for me to step back and provide constructive feedback,” she says. Donette’s self-awareness allowed her to realize that Robert would pull away when she scolded him about his grades or fights at school. Instead of pushing him to open back up, Donette went back and apologized. This made an enormous impact for them both.
“He showed me his raw feelings. It was a turning point in our relationship, that he felt comfortable telling me.”
In a recent interview about mentoring, Robert shared that he didn’t know what he’d do without Donette, saying that he would have made different choices if it hadn’t been for her.
“I was floored!” Donette says. “I had no idea I was having that kind of impact.” But the impact was mutual: “He’s taught me a lot about patience. When you have your own kids, you’re probably not as patient as you should be.” But with Robert, she couldn’t afford to be anything less than consistently patient. After all, she was his mentor, not his mother, and there was no guarantee they would continue to be matched should things get too tense. “I’ve become a better person because of all this,” Donette says.
Robert graduated both High School and Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program this spring in 2017 and is headed to a local junior college in Blue Grass. His dream is to own his own landscaping business.
Donette and Robert still keep in touch, and expect to remain in touch even though they are no longer mentoring together. When asked if she would begin mentoring again this Fall with a new mentee, Donette responded affirmatively. “This is kind of scary and exciting,” she confesses. “But I want to do this again. It’s scary because I’ve only had Rob for twelve years and I want to be able to have that kind of rapport again.” To other caring adults interested in beginning mentoring this fall, too, she encourages everyone to try it. “You do have time! You can do it during work hours, and that doesn’t take up any time at all. They just want someone to give them the attention they deserve.”
You, too, can get to know a young person and support them as they transition into adulthood or go through a rough time. Be a friend to someone who would like a caring adult in their life, and become a mentor today!