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Verna: Role Model, Friend, Mentor

Verna: Role Model, Friend, Mentor

Verna Christina is more than just a mentor. For her Little she is a role model, a friend, and a hero. Unfortunately there are so many young children that need a positive influence in their life and people like Verna that are stepping up to provide the needed support and love are truly admirable. Verna tells her story...

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Personally, I was the baby of 6 in my family so I never knew what it was like to be the older sibling. I knew how much I looked up to and depended on my siblings and wanted to do that for someone else. Plus, I used to be a teacher and later actually worked at BBBS Miami so I knew first hand the kind of impact that mentoring had on youth. I actually went to the organization to get info on volunteering and ended up getting hired first! It was crazy and seemed to be fate. 

Generally speaking, everyone at every age benefits so much from a mentor. Mentoring youth is especially important because they are developing their sense of being in the world and often times need someone to listen to them, give them advice, hold them accountable at school, celebrate their successes; and sometimes they need someone to be a distraction from their crazy preteen and teen world that is usually overwhelming. And they usually want/need/feel more comfortable doing that with someone that is not related to them so it seems more objective (I say seems because obviously the mentor cares for their mentee so they are also biased, but usually less so than say a parent).   In some cases, many for the families that seek organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, the mentors also provide a link to the world outside their own. The Bigs expose their Littles to different cultural experiences that may be out of reach for some of our lower income families.   A lot of times, the organization itself provides those opportunities for the matches through the partnerships and sponsors they make, so it’s not even about being a volunteer that has money; its much more about having time. Sometimes that experience can be as simple taking a child to the beach 10 miles away from their neighborhood.

I know for a fact that are at least 1,000 Littles on a waitlist at BBBS Miami. We are definitely suffering a shortage of volunteers, especially male volunteers. We live in a commitment-phobic society and we just don’t have enough people willing to give up their time. It’s pretty sad.

But people should do it. It’s an amazing experience. Like my Little is really like my family. I can’t imagine him not in my life anymore. And I love when I see the impact. Like even the smallest thing; I remember when I took my Little to Target jut to run some errands but it was his first trip there and his first time just “hanging out” and he was so happy just spending time with me and thanked me for taking him! It was the cutest moment that warmed my heart.  He’s about to turn 16 now so he’s not as easily impressed lol but we still have our moments. 

In all the roles I’ve held in my life, mentor, educator, sibling, daughter, photographer, social worker, friend, customer service rep, the most important lesson I’ve learned and that has mattered the most is listening to others. Really listening. I recently lost a former student to suicide. And it pains me to think someone wasn’t listening. I wish I had known and could’ve lent an ear. I try to be very present and to actively listen to anyone who wishes to share with me. I think it connects us so deeply. I know people are afraid. They don’t always want to hear what someone is saying, but if we all listened more closely, more often, there’d be more understanding in the world. And I think that would be a beautiful thing for all of us.

Verna's Personal Heroes:

Honestly, it’s tie between my two sisters. My older sister Marbely (20 years my senior) took on a parental role in my life when my father passed away when I was 12. She did everything humanly possible to ensure my parents’ sacrifices to immigrate to the States was not in vain. She worked multiple jobs and tried to give us everything. And she became our mother’s caregiver as well as her health deteriorated after my dad’s passing.  Her dedication and unconditional love are what hold our family together. My other sister, Jackie (IG @careful_i_shoot),  has always been my role model, especially academically and professionally. She paved the path for me. She was our family’s first college graduate, the only one to hold a graduate degree, and she taught me the ropes when I began teaching (following her footsteps). She’s also a creative inspiration (she’s an amazing writer and pretty good photog too). 
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