By Carlie Boswell, Enrollment & Match Coordinator and Austin White, Marketing & Recruitment Specialist
Some of our best mentors are empty nesters. Unfortunately, there is an unspoken idea that once you reach a certain age you no longer would be good as a mentor. However, that could not be further from the truth. There are 82 Bigs in our program who are 55 and older. The average match length for these Bigs is 43 months; over three times the amount of time we ask our Bigs & Littles to commit to. They bring valuable years of wisdom, patience and experience with youth to their matches. The older generation can fill a large gap in a child’s life and provide support in ways others could not.
Diane Sczepaniak is a current empty nester and Big Sister. Diane has been matched with her Little Sister, Erica, for over 5 years now. She feels that her generation does not think they can keep up with youth and so they do not volunteer as much. “Kids are kids,” she said. “They are going through the same things you did at that age.” She explained that youth have all types of interests and the thought that to be an effective mentor you have to play sports or jump on a trampoline is not true. Our Littles love to play board games, chat over ice cream, or find a new hobby. What matters is that someone is listening to them. Check out this interview with Diane to learn more about her mentoring relationship.
When did you become an empty nester and why did you decide to become a mentor?
About 7 years ago. I really enjoy kids of all ages and wanted to share some of my experiences. I wanted to make a positive impact in some way in the life of a child. My own kids are grown and I wanted to continue to make a difference.
So how long have you been a mentor and why do you continue to do it?
One year with Olivia (she moved to Seattle) and five plus with Erica. It has not always been easy and sometimes our journey has been a bit challenging, but that is what makes my relationship with Erica special. We have been matched for over 5 years and we really understand each other. I continue to enjoy seeing her blossom into an awesome young person who has so much energy and so many dreams.
Are there things you do with Erica that you do or don’t do with your own children?
Not really. We do everyday things like going to Starbucks after school and just catching up with her school and activities or going to a haunted house to enjoy an adrenaline rush.
Is it hard to separate mentoring from your maternal instincts when you’re with her?
With Erica I sometimes need to remind myself that my purpose is just to listen and not to express my opinions on her views when it comes to things like politics or religion. I want her to feel she can be open and honest with me when we talk about sensitive topics and not feel judged.
What type of skills did you bring to your match having already raised kids of your own?
I feel my experience with raising four kids of my own has taught me how to be a better listener and I know how to navigate conversations to reach a positive result.
What would you say are some positives of being a mentor as an empty nester?
Your intentions are to make a contribution to the community and to have a positive impact on a child, but then it comes back to you and makes a positive impact on your own life, it’s like WOW this is really exciting! I am truly enjoying this!
Were there any challenges of being a mentor as an empty nester for you?
I really didn’t feel there was a challenge of being an empty nester mentor. Empty nesters have so many life experiences to reflect and draw from. What better way to use some of your valuable knowledge than to share your skills and talents with a child who can benefit from your experiences.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands does not have an age cap for volunteers and our Littles can never have too many adults who care about them. In Diane’s words, “if you are on the fence, just do it!”
If you are interested in becoming a Big, go to mentoromaha.org to learn more and sign up for an information session today!