I met Esmeralda when she was eight years old through the Big Brothers Big Sisters Hispanic Mentoring program. Our first meeting was interesting. Children typically aren’t too receptive to strangers in their home. She was shy and hesitant to speak, but then again so was I. Being this was the first visit with Esmeralda, her mom, the mentoring manager, and myself I really had no idea what to talk about. Fortunately, her mother was very welcoming, and the mentoring manager knew exactly what we needed to talk about. Esmeralda ended up coming around too, so that made me feel a whole lot better.

Being fresh out of college and new to Columbus, I was looking for a way to get to know the people that made up the community. I’ve never thought too much about mentoring youth. I grew up with two younger brothers and a bunch of cousins, but that was less about mentoring and more about doing whatever I could to make sure they stayed out of my room. The decision to become a big was handled like any other important decision I make—take a piece of paper and write a “Top 10 Reasons Why I Want to Do This” list. Some of the reasons were easily developed: get involved with a great nonprofit and connect with people who are a part of the program. Ultimately the one that ended up making the decision for me: Give this kid the boost they need to realize their potential.

As a kid, my class was part of a mentoring program through my school. I don’t remember how we got involved, I just remember being told you all have mentors now—they may have been college students, but I’ll never be too sure. Regardless, the matches were made, and the mentoring began. I may have met with my mentor twice over lunch after school and never heard from her again. That wasn’t too great. Although I don’t remember too much of that relationship, what I did remember is that if I’m going to become a mentor, I will not become the one that disappears on my little after a few hangouts.

Getting involved with the BBBS Hispanic Mentoring program was simple. Figuring out how I wanted to handle things once the match was made was a challenge. What kind of activities should we do together? How do I entertain this kid? Am I supposed to be inspiring? What does she eat? So many questions, a little nervousness, but a whole lot of excitement for the possibilities ahead.

It didn’t take long for Esmeralda to bust out her shell. We started having conversations about her family, and her excitement toward starting high school. One of my favorite earlier memories with Esmeralda is the time we visited a veterinarian’s office. Most of our hangouts revolved around careers that she was interested in pursuing when she got older. She was obsessed with animals and wanted to become a vet. I asked a veterinarian if we could visit her office to shadow her and get some tips on how to prepare for a future in veterinary science. Esmeralda took a tour of the operating room, learned about the schooling required to become a vet, and even looked through a microscope at a blood sample. The office had animals of various sizes and depending on how long it had been since they were worked on by the vet, various temperaments. After that trip, we learned Esmeralda did not like large or medium dogs and only wanted to work on chihuahuas. It wasn’t too long until she realized she didn’t want to become a vet after all. She wanted to become a baker instead!

We had been matched for a year and were able to manage a minimum of three visits a month. This was before I had a steady full-time job and had more time to commit. Slowly, the number of visits began to dwindle from twice a month, to once a month, to once every three to four months. My schedule had changed, and I was struggling with balancing my commitments. I couldn’t face the fact that I was letting down my little and slowly started to become that mentor I told myself I would never be. It wasn’t fair to Esmeralda, and I was ashamed for letting it continue that way for as long as it did. We eventually talked about it, and we agreed that I needed to do better with upholding my commitment as a big. For a moment, I honestly thought about stepping down as a mentor. I wasn’t confident in my capability to manage all my responsibilities and be there for this kid. But why not? Kids get involved with the BBBS program for different reasons, but mentors are all in for one unifying purpose: to be there for the kids. Esmeralda deserved a dedicated big and that’s what I was determined to be.

We’ve been matched for almost seven years now. Esmeralda is in high school and is doing so well. It has been a privilege watching her grow into a fierce, smart, and funny young woman who is obsessed with Tik Tok. She has strong opinions and a kind heart. She has good friends, some that she has known since first grade. She has a mother that has been a shining example of strength and accepting people for who they are. We have deep conversations about challenges faced by society and how we believe her generation will be the ones to create the solutions. We talk about her goals of going to college and her future.

Becoming a big was a good decision—getting it together and realizing how important it was for me to stick with it was an even better decision. Esmeralda and I have made so many good memories. From ice skating for the first time to visiting OSU’s campus, we’ve done so much together and there’s still so much to do. My favorite recent memory is going to Esmeralda’s first concert. We saw Shawn Mendes and had the best time singing along to every song on the setlist. At the end of the concert, she asked me if we could still hang out once she graduated and the BBBS program was over. Obviously, the answer was “of course” and it brought me so much joy knowing that our friendship goes beyond the program. The picture of us is from that concert. I am looking forward to taking more pictures with her and creating more memories together.