An hour a week offers a year-long gift to a child

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There are a few of you out there anxious for children in Carroll County still without December gifts. Rest easy. The Christmas Crews (and there are too many of them to name here) are pulling off minor miracles for children and families, and virtually hundreds of kids and households are rightly anticipating a memorable holiday. If you participated in one of the many efforts for Christmas, I thank you.

But I hope you might consider a January gift for a child.

Early in January the children will return to school from Christmas break, and close on their heels will follow the Big Brothers and Big Sisters mentors. They will return to a cafeteria or classroom for one hour each week to continue their role as mentors to their diminutive friends at Kathryn Winn and Cartmell Elementary Schools.

Having already put in a few months as a mentor to one of the rare human beings shorter than me, I can confirm that I have not had to become the young man’s parent, uncle, guardian, banker, life-coach, or Jedi instructor. Nor have I been asked to spell a word longer than boardwalk. It does cost me three bucks to dine with the boy at his local cafeteria, but it means I get to eat things like chicken patties in the shape of flowers and an interesting item called a corn dog bite. As a backdrop to this culinary coup, I also get the backdrop of the edgy, often adversarial, chatter of seven year-olds. It’s an exotic experience, like being in Paris.

Life as a mentor requires only one hour per week, but it also demands an easy laugh, both with the child and at my own expense. I forget how seriously I am taking myself until I sit with someone who is not taking me seriously at all. When I once started a conversation about spelling words, he suggested something about a liquid teeth sharpener as a really neat invention. Yes, liquid teeth sharpener (as if it comes in a capsule?).

Reality is always shifting with kids, and my friend and I do seem to go in and out of this time plane with little warning, but amid the unpredictable turns there is a growing friendship. There is an irreplaceable “something” between people who sit together, dip crinkle fries in ketchup, and listen to one another. There is also a certain spark in his step when I call him by the nickname I gave him after seeing him defeat all comers in open sprints on the playground.

It is interesting to serve as a mentor when absolutely none of the professional reasons that qualify me as a mentor matter to this boy. He does not know what I do for a vocation, nor does he care. I suppose he just enjoys the perks: I listen to his stories, suggest diverse animals that might be the meat inside a deep-fried crust at lunch, and compare a good spelling test score to winning the Nobel Prize. Neither he nor his classmates really understand why we get together for lunch, but they sure do appreciate what it means to have an adult showing up to eat.

 What none of the children see is the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization that matches a willing adult with a willing child through the referral of a caring adult teacher or guardian. They do not see the work that goes into monthly board meetings and fundraising and mentor interviews and background checks and observations. What they do see is a familiar face showing up every week just for them. And that, the research shows, seems to be enough of an added push to keep a kid moving in the right direction.

I know we’re all caught up with December gifts, but would you consider holding one back until January? It is the gift of time, and it is the universal sign of love. I promise you that there is no gift in December that can match what can happen through a gift in January. Please call the Big Brothers Big Sisters office at (502) 662-0888 or contact Roberta Sell at bbbs_carrollton@yahoo.com for information.     


The Rev. Christopher White, D.Min., is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Carrollton.