A reflection by Susan Bartels, BBBSLV CEO
Discovering what you want to wake up and do every day is a true challenge. I am fortunate because I discovered my passion during my sophomore year of college and never looked back. I did not know it when I was first matched but becoming a Big Sister – way back in 1991 at Eastern Mennonite University – set me up for my entire career, almost all of it with Big Brothers Big Sisters.
It was a great model, one which higher educational institutions should embrace. My classmates and I were given different volunteering options to earn credits through a ‘College Sophomore Experience.’ I chose Big Brothers Big Sisters because I was drawn to the one-to-one aspect of the mentoring program.
It was empowering to know that the time I spent with my Little Sister, though only a few hours monthly, could really help shape her future. I did not know what my future would hold, but I had confidence I could provide some guidance to a young woman who needed a role model.
My first Little Sister, Miesha, and I were matched for two years. During our time together, we spent our time baking cakes and cookies (among other things). As it turned out, this activity helped her find her passion and her future career – and it was a ton of fun for me too.
My entire career blossomed from my College Sophomore Experience. The first and only job I applied to after graduation was a Part-Time Case Worker for Big Brothers Big Sisters in Schuylkill County. After I met my husband and relocated to Bucks County, I started as a case manager, was promoted to a leadership role after the first year, and then moved to a Program Director position with BBBS of Bucks County for the next decade.
During my time in Bucks County, I was also ready to take on new challenges outside of my daily work. Yet, I had one overarching goal: to leave an impact on the community where I worked.
Serendipitously, a leadership opportunity came about at Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lehigh Valley. It presented an opportunity in a community with great needs to not only work closely with passionate staff and volunteers, but to play a part in shaping what the future of the Lehigh Valley could look like for its youngest citizens.
Now, as CEO of our Lehigh Valley agency, I feel as close as ever to our mission. I have continued to serve as a Big Sister and now utilize years of hands-on and academic experience to guide and support our staff, volunteers, donors, Board and community partners who also believe deeply in what BBBS accomplishes.
Although we are blessed with tons of support within the Lehigh Valley, I continue to champion the importance of mentoring in our community. I strive to help more people understand how meaningful mentoring is – and to help guide them to our program to learn more about volunteering or giving.
And, when doing so, I always start with my own story. I also tell potential volunteers about the “hidden benefit” of mentoring – you get as much out of the relationship as your Little! I’m proud that I not only made a difference for my Little Sister, Miesha, but that we still keep in touch.
That makes it all amazingly worthwhile. While I might have known I wanted to spend my life involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters from my first experience, one of my greatest successes is knowing that the Little Sister I helped in 1991 still values our relationship 28 years later.