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!