by Lydia Bogar
Religion or rumor? Is it true that you meet people for a reason, a season, or a lifetime? For me, the best of the best is the surprise meeting, connecting with someone you never would have met in any other place at any other time.
Is that meeting spiritual or emotional? To share. To grow. To learn.
Does that person meet your unspoken need, or do you meet theirs? Maybe it’s both. Either way, it can be powerful.
Last Saturday, I was a volunteer at the WGBH Food and Wine Festival where I anticipated being a helper and nothing more–well, except maybe a chance to indulge in a little taste of something yummy. I was pleased to be at this event in Brighton where the décor was beautiful, the fall evening was mild with a slight breeze, and music was in the air.
I was assigned to be a greeter, providing guests with wine glasses and programs. About an hour into my shift, late in the afternoon, I met Cheryl. She was a lady of color about 50 years old, not very tall, casually dressed, and a graduate student at Northeastern.
Everywhere, there were pleasant, welcoming smiles. I cannot honestly say why Cheryl’s smile stood out in the crowd, but her thanks for the program was sincere and from the heart, not automatic like so many others. Sometimes volunteers at large events like this are treated like beige wallpaper, so I was certainly happy to be acknowledged. I was even happier to be given the opportunity to accompany her into the tent.
As we walked through the tent, Cheryl shared her very personal responses to the aromas and tastes of the food and drink inside the big tent. I stood silently by her and absorbed her nuanced vocabulary. I wondered if she was a professional chef. The fabulous green beans that I heard about from others as the night wore on. The ice cream, something flash-frozen and beyond delicious. A unique taste of lamb. Some wonderful artisan chocolate. And gin, a surprise addition to the beverages that were usually limited to wine and beer.
When I returned to my post near the gate and picked up a program that described the tent’s offerings, I found that Cheryl’s descriptions were more interesting, detailed, and profound than what had been provided in the glossy script. Thinking back to our chat, I started craving green beans.
The happiness in her voice told me that her experience had been totally worth the price of admission; whatever her needs were that day, they had been met. She was tapping her toes to the jazz quartet’s music and starting up new conversations when I saw her an hour later. Had talking to me added to her experience? She said it did; in fact, she said it twice.
Meeting Cheryl was a privilege. I was happy that our conversation felt so personal, and not simply like an event guest communicating with a “host face.” There was little time or opportunity for me to actually taste the food inside the big tent, and of course, no wine; I was on duty. But her vibrant descriptions had provided a vicarious thrill. Even more important, though, she brought me peace and a smile, both appreciated and reciprocated.
I enjoyed her joy, which was bountiful.
As I walked with her toward the exit ramp, I wished her luck with her final semester and her upcoming job hunt. The gap in our ages showed. I am grateful that, in my retirement, I never have to go on another job interview or read the postings of jobs at my pay grade (or to even be reminded, by some, of my paygrade).
I silently wish her strength and courage, even though she obviously has both. Being in the moment – her moment – was a bonus.
Cheryl is blind, and she enabled me to see.
Our own “Renaissance Woman,” Lydia has done everything from teaching English to doing volunteer emergency service. We’re lucky to have her volunteering, these days, to help with BOLLI Matters!
At BOLLI’s recent conference on creative retirement, representatives from the MAZIE Foundation were on hand to talk about their outstanding mentorship program. Our own Bob Keller has been working with MAZIE students for some time and hopes that his experience will inspire other BOLLI members to volunteer–this past term, he says, four students had to be turned away because they just didn’t have enough mentors.
BOB KELLER: VOLUNTEER EXTRAORDINARE
“I have been interested in social justice and community issues for a long time,” says Bob Keller. This was handed down to me by my parents, both of whom gave a lot to their communities. While I was a CFO of a couple of companies from 1977 to 1995, I also did community work. I coached soccer for my kid’s teams, and when the director of the All Newton Music School died suddenly and the program was in a tumultuous period, I stepped on board as Treasurer and tried to help.” His stepping in to help certainly did not stop there.
In 1987, along with two of his close college friends, Bob started a non-profit group, Mobile Diagnostic Services, which worked out of Leonard Morse Hospital in Natick. All three of us did this outside our regular jobs. Mobile Diagnostic Services was the only mobile mammography van in Massachusetts, doing about 4,000 mammography exams per year. “It was a tough business,” he says, “but we provided a critical service and saved lives.” The three volunteers managed the business and interpreted 4,000 mammography exams. Bob raised the funds to keep the program going. In 2003, the group turned their vans over to Dana Farber—no one else has been able to successfully operate mobile mammography in this state.
Bob’s interests have ranged from Mobile Diagnostic Services to the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative where he served as fundraising director for this community organizing non-profit in a primarily Cape Verdean Roxbury community from 1997-2000. After retiring in 2004, he was a Board member at the All Newton Music School and as Board President started their capital campaign in 2005 to renovate the building (the renovation finally completed in 2017), and tutored MCAS math prep in Boston’s public high schools for 8 years under the auspices of “Partners in Education.” For the past 15 years, Bob has also been a Board member of the Commonwealth Chorale (formerly the Newton Choral Society). He and his wife Barbara have been singing with the Chorale for the past 41 years. “I’ve also been an SGL at BOLLI a few times, leading an Introduction to Choral Music course. And to top it all off, he is also a member of the Weston Library music committee.
But for Bob, what seems to be the volunteer experience he has found to be the most meaningful is his work with at-risk students at both Framingham and Waltham High Schools through the Mazie Foundation.
Founded in 1998, the mission of the John Andrew Mazie Memorial Foundation is “to enable at-risk high school students to become adults of promise through goals-based mentoring.” The Foundation’s Mazie Mentoring Program, which has been operating at Framingham High since 1998 and at Waltham High School since 2010, helps aspiring students “set and achieve goals, graduate from high school, prepare to apply to college or other post-secondary training, and experience success.”
Each Mazie mentor provides a student with:
* personal, social, emotional, and educational support through high school;
* information, support, and skills for vital success in the workplace;
* advocacy and exposure in the areas of cultural, social, educational, and personal development;
* a role model, friend, and advisor with whom to explore all the riches of life and the world around them.
The mentoring commitment begins about half way through a student’s sophomore year and ends at high school graduation. Mentors are asked to meet with their mentees for an average of eight hours per month.
Over a period of seven years, Bob has mentored three at-risk students from Framingham and Waltham. Bob also became Board President in 2012 and has been leading a “managing Board” since Lowell Mazie, the CEO, founder and creator of the mentoring program, died in January 2016.
Bob describes how the program begins:
“Mentors and mentees are matched up at a Mazie gathering that takes place on a Saturday afternoon in October or March. After your mentee is identified, you play a few get-to-know-you games, and a two and one half year relationship begins. It’s awkward at first. In my case, I was about 60 years older than my first mentee—old enough to be his grandfather. I could feel the thought running through his head—how can I relate to this old white guy from the suburbs?”
That first mentee, Danny, was born in the U.S., but both of his parents came from the Dominican Republic. They spoke little English and understood little about American high school life or the college process. “Danny was captain of the football team and liked to appear macho,” Bob says. “It took a while to find the Danny that I grew to be very fond of—which seems to have started about three months in. When we were driving somewhere, Danny turned on a rap station and cranked up the volume very loud. Now, I don’t like rap or loud music, but I thought for a minute before saying: ‘Danny, you can pick the station, and then I get to adjust the volume.’ He pondered and then agreed. In some way, this broke the ice, and we started to trust each other.”
For the next year and a half, Bob helped Danny with his school work, his federal financial aid forms for college grants and loans, and his college applications. They visited U. Conn. in Storrs and, eventually, Dean College in Franklin where he was accepted and enrolled. It didn’t take him long, though, to learn that an expensive private college can end up limiting options rather than expanding them. So, he got a job waiting tables and working in the kitchen at a Hyatt Hotel and then after 8 years graduated with a BA from Framingham State. “His graduation in 2014 was an emotional day—for both of us,” Bob says. “I was so proud of him.”
Bob says he has sometimes wondered if his second mentee, Brandon, needed the program at all. He received every award that Maisie gives, including a laptop at the end of junior year. “When he graduated, I gave him my old bike which he used to get to Market Basket where he worked during his college years at Mass Bay Community College.”
“My latest mentee, Smaido, arrived in Waltham after the earthquake that killed over 160,000 people in Haiti. He has not seen his father since 2010 when left the island with his mother and younger brother. He spoke no English when he arrived. We met three years later, in February of 2013, when he was a sophomore at Waltham High School. Because Smaido attended church with his mother and brother every Sunday, we always got together on Saturdays.”
The two spent one of their first Saturdays visiting the deCordova Museum in Lincoln. Smaido had never been to a museum before, and he liked the structures in the sculpture garden. He didn’t much care for the modern art inside. They went to a street fair in Waltham Center in late April that year. While Smaido was interested from a distance, he did not get out of the car to participate—his caring mother had told him, after the Marathon bombing just a week or two earlier, to avoid crowds.
During Smaido’s junior year, “I got some orange cones from the local highway department and started teaching him to drive at an empty school parking lot near his apartment in Waltham. It was probably not acceptable as a mentoring activity, and it might even have been illegal,” Bob grins, “but it went a long way to helping him become more confident and outgoing. Parallel parking was the final exam I gave him”
Smaido worked hard in school, was named “Student of the Month” at Waltham High in November of his senior year where he took a very full load of six tough courses—physics, chemistry, pre-calculus, Spanish, English, and accounting. He also worked at an assisted living facility near his apartment. His guidance counselor and I both tried to convince him to reduce his load, but he stuck with it. He is determined to be a civil engineer. Bob arranged for a summer internship at a civil engineering firm in Waltham, between junior and senior high school years.
Eventually, Smaido was accepted at a small private school in New Hampshire and was wait-listed at Merrimac College that has a fine civil engineering program. Of course, we talked about going to a community college for two years and then transferring to a U. Mass campus. The tuition, of course, would be much lower than at Merrimac, a private school. “But once we visited Merrimac together, there was no turning back. He said he’ll pay back his loans when he becomes a civil engineer.”
Smaido is beginning his junior year at Merrimac. “He is far more confident than the shy young man I met in 2013, and I expect to be at his graduation in 2019,” Bob says. “His story is amazing.”
But, then, so is Bob’s.
After working on a merger possibility for over a year, Bob’s board was happy to announce on July 1 2017 that Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Central Mass/Metrowest will combine with the Mazie Foundation. BBBSCM Board Chair, Chris Lucas of Upton, comments that: “Both organizations share a fundamental belief in the amazing power that strong, positive mentoring can have in a young person’s life to change the path of possibilities of who and what they can become. Combining the Mazie Foundation with BBBSCM is a force multiplier where one plus one equals ten.”
OR leave a comment here for Bob–he’s eager to connect with anyone who might be interested in volunteering and wants to make it as easy as possible for you to do so!
Recently, we’ve been thinking about the wide range of volunteerism in which BOLLI members engage and would like to highlight them in this venue. Are you involved in a program that you find particularly rewarding, especially one that would benefit from additional volunteers? Share your volunteer experience with us! Here’s Lydia to start us off–
THINKING ABOUT VOLUNTEERING SOME TIME AND ENERGY?
Two Suggestions from Lydia Bogar
The storm warnings came across the bottom of the TV screen before the 5:00 news. I checked the radar on my computer and went back to washing the kitchen floor.
Within minutes, my old memory stem woke up as I put the mop on the porch. Tomorrow would be the anniversary of the Springfield/Brimfield tornado. The video of that tornado as it crossed Memorial Bridge in Springfield remains as vivid today as it was then…
That old memory stem also brings back the first responders from across the state, and, most especially, the contributions made by two groups of volunteers: first, SKYWARN, severe weather spotters, all trained volunteers connected to the National Weather Service in Taunton (www.weather.gov/box/skywarn) and second, the Worcester area CISM team (www.centralmasscism.org).
My first SKYWARN training was in October of 1999 when I was a disaster services volunteer with the Worcester Chapter of the American Red Cross. It was a very interesting training–especially good for campers and boaters. Glenn Field from NWS Taunton gave us a lot of information about clouds, reading radar, and thermal convections. As a civilian, retired from the Red Cross, I have continued SKYWARN training and strongly recommend it to the BOLLI community. You can contact Rob Macedo at email@example.com to schedule SKYWARN training for any community group with a membership of 15 or more. It is very much worth three hours of your time.
I’ve also spent 16 years training and volunteering in CISM (Critical Incident Stress Management), a peer support network for first responders. There are 15 teams in Massachusetts, covering all police, fire, and EMS personnel from North Adams to Provincetown. Our teams consist of trained peers as well as fire department, clergy, and mental health professionals. It is an amazing global system that includes volunteers who served in New York in the fall of 2001, Boston after the Marathon bombing, southern Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, and the western part of Massachusetts after the tornado in 2006. If you are a retired mental health professional or retired member of the clergy who is interested in volunteering, please contact me at Toehead8@verizon.net, and I will refer you to the Team Leader in your residential area.
Former English teacher and health care professional Lydia Bogar provides BOLLI Matters with a wealth of material on a variety of subjects including her own regular feature “Lines from Lydia.”