14 September 2013

He Ain't Heavy, He's My (Little) Brother...

UPDATED: Scroll to the end...

(I'm still on semi-vacation at the beach, so I'm taking a little blog break. I love this post because it has something so few of them do: a thru-line. My former Billboard colleague Geoff Mayfield writes about a great experience he had helping others and we get to hear the end of the story. Plus, as he says at the start, it's almost impossible to volunteer and not feel like you are getting way more back than you are putting in. Geoff and my cubicles were beside each other when we first met at Billboard in New York, and then we ended up with offices beside each other a few years later after we both eventually transferred to Los Angeles. He's a great neighbor no matter what the coast.--Melinda)
 You’ve probably heard it so often enough that it sounds cliché. Someone you know, or someone you read about, talks about volunteering for any number of praiseworthy causes, and says of that program’s beneficiaries, “You know, I get more out of this than they do.” But, in slightly less busy days when I worked for the erstwhile Camelot Music chain at their headquarters near Canton, Ohio, that was exactly the case when I volunteered for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
 Following the example of my brother-in-law, who had been a Big Brother before he and my sister had kids, I contacted the local Big Brothers Big Sisters program, which in Canton was affiliated with the local YMCA.
 Once I’d gone through the program’s rigorous screening, they set me up on a trial date with a 13-year-old named Jeff. Normally, there aren’t “test period” for matches, but Jeff’s mother was certain her son needed a mentor, and earlier attempts to pair him with a Big Brother hadn’t worked out, so I was invited to have an outing with him before we were officially matched.
 Jeff was a football enthusiast who played in a YMCA youth league, so he was thrilled to visit the nearby Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was such a sweet kid that I was surprised the program had difficulty pairing him. I didn’t know he was aware our match was tentative until I dropped him off that afternoon. When I said, “See you later,” Jeff quickly responded, “I sure hope so.”
 The program requires a commitment from its volunteers to see one’s Little Brother or Sister at least once a week. While fun activities like movies or a ballgame are OK, you’re cautioned not to do lavish outings regularly. The goal is to provide quality time and support more than it is to be a one-person activity center.
 Sometimes, I’d simply bring Jeff over to the apartment, share dinner, and help with his homework. He enjoyed those occasions as much as he did our costlier activities.
 My rewarding relationship with Jeff was just the start of this adventure. I was soon asked to join the Canton’s chapter’s board of directors. Eventually I was elected the board’s president.
 The board helped with fundraising efforts and made sure our program was compliant with national Big Brothers Big Sisters standards. We also provided group activities for Bigs and Littles, some were as simple as pot luck dinners, others were more elaborate outings, like attending a Cleveland Indians game. We even organized a bus trip down to Knoxville to attend the 1982 World’s Fair.
 A couple of years after we were matched, Jeff moved to Columbus when his mother’s job was relocated. At that point, I got matched to a young spitfire named Travis, who I’d met earlier when one of my neighbors followed me into Big Brothers, but later had to move out of town. When Travis lost his first Big Brother, I initially tried including him in my activities with Jeff, but soon had to drop that idea when I realized Jeff wasn’t ready to share me.
 Travis’ home life had been more turbulent than Jeff’s, but he very quickly opened up with me. Our friendship became as worthwhile as the one I’d developed with Jeff. Like Jeff, he’d shown a tendency to be a bit of a hothead before we started hanging out. And, as had been the case with Jeff, we steered Travis to calmer waters.

 Most rewarding is that my relationships with Jeff and Travis aren’t distant memories.  We remain friends decades later.
 When I moved to New York, Travis and I kept in touch by mail for a while. He and his Mom later moved to Michigan. I got worried when he told me he was becoming an emancipated minor. We were out of touch for a while, but after I got transferred to Los Angeles, I was delighted to get an email from him after a gap of more than 10 years.
 Travis is married and is a committed dad to his two stepdaughters and stepson. He made a good living in construction, switched to restoring foreclosed homes when the economy slowed and now sells real estate. We stay in contact through Facebook and the occasional phone call.
 Jeff and I never really lost touch. His boyhood ambition to become a professional football player evaporated, but after a few jobs, he taught himself to play guitar and now makes a living as a troubadour singing at clubs in the Tampa Bay area, with occasional gigs in Northern Ohio and Detroit.
He’s also a great dad to his daughter and three sons, two of them 10-year-old twins who made enough noise in Pee Wee football to garner a story last year in the Tampa Tribune. Three years ago during my annual Spring Training trip, Jeff and his twins met us for one of the ballgames in Lakeland, Fla.
 Jeff and Travis have both let me know in no uncertain terms that I made a positive impact on their lives, but each of them sure added a lot to mine too.
If you have enough time to be a Big Brother or Sister, I guarantee you’ll treasure the experience. Big Brothers Big Sisters is Melinda’s beneficiary today, but the Mayfields will also be making a donation.
-Geoff Mayfield

UPDATE: Travis Otto posted on my Facebook page after Geoff reposted the blog and his words were so beautiful I wanted to include them. What a wonderful reminder that an act of  kindness can make a tremendous difference and can have a ripple effect that touches many, many lives.-- Melinda 


I cannot possibly say in words the impact Geoff has had in my life because who really knows where any of us would be without key persons that came into our lives at just the right time to help or guide us when we needed it the most, it is often for the most part impossible to measure. All I can say is I am certain I would not be the person I am or in the place I am at in life without the help of him and a few others like him that reached out to me at the exact right moments. When I first met Geoff I was an impossible "spitfire" as he called it, a raging lunatic would likely be a better term however. It was a difficult and awkward time for me with no real guidance or help to be found at home. He helped to lay the ground work to show me life was about your actions, what you do and how you carried yourself that matters, not how much noise you make along the way. I have come along way from where I was back then. I have never been one that has been good at displaying or sharing feelings but hope that he knows the HUGE impact he has had in my life and how grateful I am for the time he invested in me. I think and hope that I have helped to pass those same lessons and traits on to my children. As my friend Nancy  Malone says, JKLP- "Just Keep Loving People". ONE PERSON REALLY CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!! Thank you Geoff Mayfield for making a difference with me!

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