OPINION: Tracing my journey to public service through mentoring
Last year, I received a beautiful note from a young man I first met 29 years ago. He told me that the time we spent together those many years ago had changed his life.
What he didn’t realize is that he changed my life as well.
The career that has taken me to City Hall in New York began at the Mission Hill Housing Projects in Roxbury, Boston. During my freshman year in college, I began volunteering at an after-school program run out of Phillips Brooks House, Harvard’s public service organization. The children I met were as smart, energetic and filled with promise as my Harvard classmates, yet their path to the American Dream was littered with roadblocks, simply because of where they lived.
Spending time with those young people after school — tutoring, playing sports, going on field trips, talking about life — had a profound impact on me. They helped me see my purpose more clearly, setting me on a lifelong journey to improve the lives of children and families. And they made me a better human being.
That’s why I’m so excited that Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced that Mayor’s Office employees will have the ability to volunteer as mentors during work hours. “City Mentoring” is another way we are creating opportunities for young New Yorkers, connecting them to adults who can help them stay in school, graduate and go to college.
I see it as an extension of the work we’ve done in New York City to ensure every child in this city has a real chance to succeed. We’ve made free, high-quality kindergarten available to every family of a 4-year-old that wants it. We’ve created savings accounts to help families save for college. We’ve created new, 21st century tools to connect parents to resources for their children.
By making it easier for city government employees to become mentors, we hope to inspire local corporations to do the same.
But this isn’t just about helping children. It is also a huge opportunity for me, my colleagues at City Hall and anyone who has the privilege of being a mentor. It’s a chance to connect to our work in a new way, to see the world through different eyes, and perhaps to be inspired.
It’s no surprise to me that numerous studies show that providing employees opportunities to give guidance to young people makes for a happier, more productive workforce. I’ve seen the power of being a mentor in my own life.
My college classmates who served as mentors with me in Roxbury have all gone on to successful careers in advocacy and public service. Among them are the former mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, the Director of Human Rights Watch, Americas Division and the founder of the largest youth-serving organizations in New Haven, Connecticut.
To paraphrase the late Robert Kennedy, each time we act to improve the lives of others, we send out a ripple of hope and those ripples may build a current that can sweep down the mightiest of walls.
I encourage every New Yorker to make a difference in a young person’s life. By doing so, you will send out a ripple of hope into another life, into the life of this city, but most of all into your own soul. We are looking for 14,000 New Yorkers to sign up and become mentors. To connect to volunteer opportunities, visit nyc.gov/service.
Richard Buery is the deputy mayor for New York City and an East New York native
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