Being the change you want to see
Alumnus Joey DePalma volunteers with the Mentor-A-Buckeye to build up the next generation in a personal way.
As a high school teacher and coach in a local school district, I am around teenagers for more than 50 hours a week. So when my friends and family heard that I had signed up for the Mentor-A-Buckeye program, they couldn’t help but ask, “Why?”
Mentor-A-Buckeye pairs up a Columbus City high school freshman with an adult member of the Columbus community, as well as a current Ohio State student in hopes that the mentee gets four-plus years’ worth of guidance to meet his or her potential with a focus on education, inspiration and motivation.
While to my friends and family it seemed outrageous that I’d want to volunteer more of my time to young people, to me, the opportunity to work with an inner-city high school student was a no-brainer.
Kids are our future. They are the ones who will be tasked with making our world a better, brighter place — and my experiences as a teacher tell me that this generation is capable of doing just that. They are innovative and creative; smart and resourceful; caring and charitable.
Unfortunately, though, not all young people have the same opportunities to make use of their talents and strengths. To me, Mentor-A-Buckeye is a chance to give back to the community by helping some of those who deserve it the most: the youth. This program represents a chance to impart some of the advantages that I grew up with and some of the knowledge I’ve gained over the years to a student who may not have otherwise had that benefit. It is a way to help inspire a young man to believe that he can change the world.
When I first met my mentee, Anthony, I was shocked at how quickly he opened up. He’s a colorful kid, who isn’t afraid to express his feelings or opinions. In an odd way, he was more comfortable and trusting than I was. Anthony already has shared many of his goals with me and expressed some of the concerns he has about issues in his own life.
We’ve talked about concerns with teachers and classes, conflicts with peers and even the dreaded teenage girlfriend trouble. It wasn’t long before I realized that this was exactly what this program was designed to do — provide these teens with someone, outside of their family, to talk to about ideas, concerns and ambitions.
One of my favorite things about teaching sophomores in high school is being able to see the growth and development in maturity levels as they continue on their road to graduation. One of my least favorite things, though, is that often these students are in my classroom only for that one school year.
But with Anthony, I know that I will get to experience his growth firsthand for the next three years. Thus, I am beyond excited to see what is in store for him. I am hopeful that he will blossom from the young teen who admits that he doesn’t work hard enough in school into the young adult who has fulfilled his immense potential.
I firmly believe that this program will make a difference in these kids’ lives by providing opportunities for getting advice on difficult teenage topics such as academics; dealing with problems that all teenagers face, like drugs and alcohol; and applying to and surviving college. The dual mentorship of the community leader and the college student truly creates a perfect combination of experience, relatability, energy and excitement.
While the main reason I volunteered for Mentor-A-Buckeye was to help others, I also signed up for selfish reasons. Working with the mentee provides a sense of accomplishment and the unique ability to witness the wonderful things that our youth can do when given a chance. Mentor-A-Buckeye is an outlet to take a positive step toward a better future.