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Helping a child renew us

Published July 09. 2011 09:02AM

Some men find it easy to "power up" to successfully climb the corporate ladder. But when it's time to leave the job and begin retirement, some find it hard to power down.

That aptly applies to my friend, Don. He had a top job with a large corporation but still managed to head some volunteer organizations.

When his corporation offered him a buy out, he knew he had to accept it. But, doers will always be doers and Don is certainly a world-class doer.

When he and his wife moved to Florida, he immersed himself into volunteer activities. I can say with all certainty that his innovative thinking and the projects he launched have made his community a better place.

One of his projects was producing a first-rate community newsletter filled with worthwhile information and interesting personality pieces. I wasn't surprised when he told me he was working 50 hours a week. There's no powering down for this guy. At least not yet.

But Don says he realized he needed something new in his life to revitalize him. So he looked carefully at other volunteer opportunities, trying to find the perfect one.

One morning he picked up the paper and read a column about the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. They need mentors to work with young boys and girls. Something clicked in Don's brain.

"My kids and even my grandkids are grown," he says. "I miss having a child around. I thought being a mentor for a youngster would be worthwhile," he said.

He found a lot more than a splendid volunteer activity. "For a guy deep into his twilight years, I found a new lease on life," he says.

He was immediately matched with Reid, a 10-year-old boy Don calls "a neat little kid." At first Reid was leery and had little to say. But Don soon earned his trust during their weekly outings.

Don gives a lot of thought to selecting the activities they do during their weekly outings, balancing sports activities with craft projects and educational field trips.

Because he has a lot of contacts in the community, Don is able to give Reid some neat activities - like going to a pro sports stadium and meeting all the players.

My friend is giving his Little Brother some invaluable experiences and I suspect he will influence young Reid's life in many positive ways.

But Reid is also giving something invaluable to Don by sharing the magic of childhood with him. It's hard to determine who's having the most fun, Don or Reid.

"It's definitely a rewarding experience for both of us," says Don as he displays something that means the world to him - a handmade card of thanks from Reid.

"No matter how old we are, we all have a kid inside us," says Don. "When I'm with Reid, we're just two kids having fun."

My friend says he feels ageless when he and his young buddy share time together. "Children are magical," Don says. "I am so happy to once again be able to share the world of a child."

He's right. Children are magical, in and of themselves. Their raw honesty and their boundless enthusiasm for life make them rewarding to be around.

There have been many years when I volunteered to teach religious education to youngsters. I tried to make learning fun for them and worked diligently to do a good job teaching them about their faith and how it fits into everyday life. But I always realized their presence was a gift to me.

Each night after class I said a prayer of thanks for the uplifting experience of being around those kids.

I believe different generations have something important to give each other. Older adults can share their wisdom earned during life's experiences. Kids can share their innate fascination with life. They can help us better see and appreciate the wonders of life.

Don says he relearned how a child could turn a routine activity into something special. Eating an ice cream cone is nothing special for him. But when he has an ice cream cone with Reid, there's a new element of fun.

I wanted to tell you about Don's "new lease on life" for an important reason.

There are plenty of older adults who quietly wish they had something to liven their days.

There are also plenty of children who sit home alone with only the television set or a video game for company.

Sometimes, organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters or school programs successfully pair the two age groups.

But many people are reluctant to take the formal steps of applying to be a mentor.

Helping or mentoring a child doesn't have to be a formal experience. It can be as simple as taking care of a child while his mother works. Or, taking a kid for ice cream while his mother has some time to herself.

I know. In this age of child molestation, everyone is on guard and well meaning adults are sometimes held suspect. Once, when I stopped my car to take a photo for the newspaper, two little boys ran inside to tell their mother a suspicious stranger was out there.

But trust issues can be worked out.

There are plenty of single parents struggling to raise kids and to find time just for all the necessities in life. Many would appreciate having an older adult help by doing an activity with a youngster.

Then, for both the mentor and the child, it's a win-win situation. Just ask my friend, Don.

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