Monday, July 27, 2015

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In this series, professionals thank those who helped them reach where they are today. Read the posts here, then write your own. Use #ThankYourMentor and @mention your mentor when sharing.

I was born and raised in Ecuador. My mother immigrated to the U.S., when I was only 8 years old. During the most critical point, I didn’t have my mother right next to me, and those years were the most challenging of my life. However, they were also the years that shaped me and inspired me to become the person I am today.

When I think about a mentor who shaped my life, I can’t think of another person than my 4th-grade elementary school teacher. She noticed that I was a dedicated and smart student. However, she also noticed there were opportunities to succeed that I was not taking advantage of.

I was quiet and never told anyone that I didn’t feel supported or encouraged by anyone in my family, except for my mother but she was away. My teacher approached me and showed interest in knowing my story. When I told her what I was feeling in my life, she was caring and expressed genuine interest in wanting to encourage me to uncover my full potential.

From then on, she encouraged me to take on opportunities to be more successful. She helped me apply for a scholarship, she also encouraged me to become the class president to develop my leadership skills, and she also motivated me to be involved in several school activities, such as plays and sports teams.

Thanks to my mentor, I was more courageous and, most importantly, I believed in myself. I was motivated to be the best student and person so that when I reunited with my mother again, she can feel proud of my success.

I reunited with my mom at the age of 16. I took my mom to meet my teacher. They were so happy to share my success stories, and she highlighted how much of an inspiration I had become for other students.

From then on, I realized how much of an impact a mentor can have in a person’s life. My mentor and my mother taught me to believe in myself and that with hard work, all sacrifices are worth it. When I didn’t believe in myself, my teacher was always present to remind me of my potential.

Growing up without my mother was challenging but thanks to my mentor and her teachings, I learned to value education and hard work. My mom had no choice but to immigrate to the U.S. to provide my siblings and me with a better future. As a result, I have dedicated my life to always look for opportunities to better myself. I learned to believe that education is the key to a wide array of opportunities to succeed in life.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC has given me the opportunity to work with children and mentors in achieving their goals and dreams. I am a firm believer that every child needs a positive role model.

Every child needs an adult mentor who can believe, support and encourage him/her to achieve their full potential. That is why I am so glad to be a part of such great organization, because with its vison and mission, everyone gets a chance to believe and succeed.

From the moment, I interview the child and his/her family to the moment I match a child with a mentor, it is so rewarding to feel that I contributed to planting a positive seed in that child’s life.

Maria Loja Barahona is a current staff member of Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City. To become a volunteer mentor or to learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC, log onto or call 212-686-2042.