Mentor Mondays: Seeing the Impact Firsthand
(New Philadelphia, Ohio) – A local impact story that takes readers on a journey through a 20-year relationship with Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Central Ohio.
Zachary Denham first became involved with BBBS approximately 20 years ago when he was just 7-years-old. “I was getting into some trouble at school. Not listening to my mother,” explained Denham. “And my mother, who is the strongest and most loving person I have ever met thought I would benefit from another influence in my life at that time.”
Denham’s mother wanted him to be able to connect, one-on-one, with a male role model. Someone who he could relate to and learn from. His biological father was not in his life at the time.
And so, Denham was registered with the program. His first year he was matched with a man named Bernie. “One of the kindest souls I’ve ever met. We used to take long walks in the woods and he was very involved with the nature center so we used to do fun things there too,” said Denham. The next year, however, Denham was placed with a new mentor, Nick, a high school senior from Strasburg.
“We clicked from the start because we both played basketball and we used to go to the local gym and play a lot,” he added. Denham and Nick still talk all these years later.
“I got to get out and do a lot more activities I may not have otherwise done,” said Denham. “Like hike, fish, play basketball, football or baseball with someone. Also, it gave me someone to talk to about things going on in my life at that time.”
Fast-forwarded to today.
At 27-years-old, Denham is in his first year of residency training at the University of Pittsburg Medical Center to become an Anesthesiologist. He commends the BBBS program and both Bernie and Nick for helping to prepare him for such an important job. “Not only the responsibility and inspiration it provided me as a Little, but more importantly the patience and compassion it has show me as a Big.”
Denham, who was so moved and impacted by the program as a Little, is now a Big.
“I have been matched with James since I was 18,” he said. “James was just 6-years-old at the time and he is now a sophomore in high school. I couldn’t ask for a better Little and we have an amazing time together.”
Despite his demanding work and education-life, Denham makes sure to find plenty of time to travel back home to spend time with James. “When you set your priorities in line and then base your schedule and free time around what’s important to you, you find the time.”
He attributes the overall impact BBBS had on his life for motivating him to become a Big himself. “I credit the program for turning me in the right direction when I needed that influence. I knew at 17 I wanted to become a Big because the earliest I could do it was 18 and I wanted to pay it forward and help another child just like I was helped by Bernie and Nick.”
“Being a Big is the thing I am by far most proud of in my 27-years of life,” added Denham “To see the impact it has had on James from teaching him to swim and tie his shoes to how to drive a car, it always brings a smile to my face. But, possibly even more so, the incredible amount I have learned from being a Big. I think it has made me a better friend, mentor, and person in general.”
He added his biggest takeaway from participating in the BBBS program is that even the smallest things you do matter for other people. “Trust me, I have seen it from both sides, and that one trip to the park or bowling alley or pool or whatever is something that will last in a child’s mind and help shape the people they become.”
Denham’s goal was to pay it forward after Bernie and Nick helped him so much. And, it looks like that chain will continue with his Little, James, who has said he plans to become a Big when he turns 18. “He brought tears to my eyes and I fight them back while writing this that he wants to have the same impact on someone else that I have had on him.”
BBBS is always looking for new mentors to help even more children. For more information, visit BBBS online.