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Positive impact of mentorship

Dear Editor:

As an independent-minded youth growing up in a large family, I had difficulty conforming to the rules set forth by my parents. I had my own ideas of what was best for me, what I should be learning, and how I should be treated.

I wanted to play by my own set of rules. This attitude impaired my choice of “friends” and “extracurricular activities” during this critical development period. In my quest for independence, I made many mistakes and found myself consistently at odds with my parents, school principal and even the law. I was clearly on a self-destructive course. After failing to return home from a night out with friends, my parents had had enough. At the age of 16, I found myself out of the house and on my older brother Michael’s couch.

Michael, five years my senior, was finishing up college at the time. He recognized my need for independence and my potential beyond Juvenile Hall. While he benefited from the “couch” subsidy I paid each month, I was the true beneficiary of his mentorship in the years to follow.

Living with Michael, I no longer had a curfew or someone nagging about my comings and goings. For better or worse, Michael allowed me to be myself. In the first couple of months, there were many nights that I did not come home and I found myself continuing to put myself in harm’s way. However, the more time I spent with Michael, the closer we became and the more I began to emulate his values. His friends became my friends, their interests and aspirations became mine. I began to move beyond the negative influences in my life and restored the relationship with my parents.

Michael never tried to contain my independent streak; he encouraged me to seek out what was important to me and pursue my passions. He introduced me to “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged,” and we discussed the independent mindedness of Howard Roark and the disdain we shared for James Tagert’s lack of integrity. I looked up to Michael and valued his integrity, sense of responsibility and ideals. He became my confidant, my friend and mentor.

Thirty years later, the lessons I learned from my mentor continue to shape who I am and contributed greatly to the successes I have achieved along the way. Michael introduced me to what have become my greatest passions – the importance of family, outstanding food and wine, hospitality and travel.

I would like to think that my sheer will and fortitude were strong enough to overcome the challenges and poor decisions I made as a teenager. Then again, without my brother’s mentoring, there is a strong chance I would have become another statistic.

January is National Mentoring Month. I encourage you to seek opportunities to make a difference in a young person’s life. Having a mentor has certainly made a difference in mine.

John Speers

board member, The Buddy Program


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