“In high school, volunteering with people with special needs was a big part of my life. My father has a disability and he got me involved at a very young age and taught me that volunteering is important.”
Nate, currently a junior at Boston University’s Sargent College, arrived his freshman year eager to join a community service group; of the many different service options, he was instantly drawn to Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD). Since age 10, he has been committed to creating awareness about people with disabilities and how they should be included in society without judgment or stigmatization.
He learned about PYD through the BU First Year Student Outreach Program (FYSOP), where students can arrive to college early to complete a week’s worth of community service around the Greater Boston Area. He loved the intimacy of the PYD’s Mentor Match program where mentors are strategically paired with mentees who have similar personalities. This is when Nate met his mentee, Matt. The Mentor Match program requires a minimum one-year commitment; Nate is on his third year and plans to continue mentoring through his undergraduate collegiate years. While mentoring is one of his favorite activities, he admits it can be challenging at times. However, nothing is more rewarding than the friendship they have developed.
“The Mentor Match program definitely comes with some challenges. I think a big part of the program is that, when something comes up outside of the context of [the norm for behaviors], we can all experience a judgmental world. The Mentor Match program gives us training and tools to talk through difficult learning experiences, and I just like to have my input perhaps influence [Matt’s] actions so he goes out in the world with confidence.”
While this is not Nate’s first experience working with people with disabilities, the Mentor Match program is unique in that Matt is not just a classmate or someone he sees in passing in the school hallways; the program allows Nate and Matt to build a relationship that they consider each other best friends and “more of like family members.” They see each other at least once every two weeks, and strive for at least once a week. Most importantly, it is a few hours of quality time where they both learn from each other.
Currently, they work on the importance of confidence, especially within the school setting. Within the last few years, both Matt and Nate have transitioned to a new school setting (Matt, from middle school to high school and Nate from high school to college). They confide in each other about feelings of uncertainty about entering a brand new environment. Together they are able to conclude that this blank chapter of their lives is not something to worry about, but rather to be excited about.
Nate says, “That’s what’s so great about being older than him, but still close in age where pretty recently I have gone through what he’s going through now.”
Nate’s advice and mentoring have helped Matt succeed socially in addition to “[having] his best year academically ever.” It is equally important to note the positive effects that Matt has imparted on Nate. Matt has taught Nate the importance and value in remembering working hard is just as important as having fun once in a while. Nate often feels stressed with his school routine and other obligations, but when he is with Matt, his stress disappears.
“He’s the epitome of a 15 year old boy. We’ve gone to three or four baseball games together. Those are some of my favorite moments because I remember being a little kid going to Citizen’s Bank Park to watch the Philly’s and just being in awe of everything going on around me and just being so immersed in the sport that I love and he loves it too. I can see all those looks that I used to give when I was a kid on his face and it’s really cool to see that come full circle.”
They have realized that regardless of who you are or what people think about you, hard work, dedication to yourself, and a positive future focus will lead to happiness.
This post was written by Morgan Tripi, Senior at Boston University’s College of Communication and PYD Account Executive of the BU PR Lab. Edited by Nicole Malo.