January is National Mentoring Month. The line between the haves and the have-nots is a much publicized issue in our society but while the drone about the problem as an abstract idea tumbles on, there is a growing generation of real children who experience real needs and miss real opportunities.
Children do need role models and in the absence of a positive one, they are left to the wolves to adopt one of their choosing. You can act for these children. And make no mistake, your actions will speak to these kids louder than any media sound bite.
I grew up in an above average-size family. Eight of us, all brothers, evolved together learning the ins and outs of life with the good, and sometimes bad, influence of one another. We held and hold each other accountable when needed, knowing that the reflection is “tree-wide.” The benefit being that in every circumstance, we were mentored. We learned from each other.
Though the subtle, almost imperceptible from up-close, degradation of adolescent societal norms is upon us, fortunately the extent of our collective record amounts to little more than a few traffic tickets. I contribute this more than partially to the “built-in” mentoring that came with that competitive accountability the group demanded.
Sandy Hook Elementary shooter Adam Lanza was not an only child either. However, his older brother Ryan did not live in the house Adam and his mother shared. Did you know Adam once gave a school presentation entirely by computer, never uttering even one word? For all intents and purposes, the mentoring by association was not there for him.
Eric Harris, one of the Columbine shooters, and Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, were both only children. They and Lanza never experienced the family-based check and balance that many of us enjoy, and I wager none of them reaped the benefit of some other person stepping in to mentor them.
I wonder how many times 20-year-old Lanza might have thought “Why not? No one cares. No one will even know.” I wonder why his mother and he had not spoken in the three days leading up to the shooting. The opportunity for someone to help these children and to see the desperate need for intervention must have been there. How does it affect you that no one took action?
Thankfully, in these dark days, the opposite end of the spectrum exists as an equally shining example.
A family of two brothers and two sisters crossed my path a few summers ago. The most positive and enthusiastic by far was one of the brothers. With his girlfriend at his side, he never spoke a harsh word, brandishing never less than a smile.
From the moment we met, this one brother parlayed the rest of us into his world of constant entertainment. He had a stranglehold on the vigor of life. It was obvious that he had been part of a relationship that encouraged and supported him throughout. I know this because there could have been no other way. He had no option but to turn out the way he did considering that he had absolutely no use of any of his extremities, a 100-percent quadriplegic.
If he happened to lean forward, he didn’t even have the strength to pick himself up. His family played the role of bumpers, and not just physically. I could see how he would lean on each of them, and I knew the support was paralleled mentally. They made it so obvious they were happy with life.
I mentor because I see this need, and I challenge you. Take time out of your busy schedule to be that for someone. Consider how you can make a difference. Look for avenues to mentor, to lead by example, to make a difference. Get involved in a developing life. You’ll be surprised; the reward may not pay off just to the recipient.
I am actively involved in the local Buddy Program. I have a great relationship with my Little Buddy, and I believe the results are pivotal to the future of our town. You can make a difference, too. For more information about the local program go to BuddyProgram.org, or contact me.
Will Rutledge is the fastest skier from Mississippi. If you want to contact him, email him at Will.Rutledge@gmail.com .