Defying All Odds: An Unbreakable Match
At an uncertain age of 24, Marc Mingolelli decided to become a Big Brother. After only a year together in their friendship, Little Brother Zach’s mom was diagnosed with cancer, and within 2 years lost both of his parents. Their story together defies incredible odds and was featured at Big Night 2015. Read or watch their story below and get inspired by this truly unbreakable friendship.
“Tonight, I am here to tell you about my Little Brother Zach Morgan and what our relationship means to me. I was matched with Zach when I was 24 years old- at a time when I was figuring out my personal and professional life.
Zach, a 9-year old Caucasian boy, grew up in a loving home in Needham with his mother Janet and older brother. Feeling that Zach needed a constant male influence in his life, Janet enrolled Zach in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
Society had conditioned me to think that families in towns like Needham don’t need Big Brothers Big Sisters, but I soon came to realize that need does not discriminate by zip code.
Right from the start, two realities were apparent in our relationship. One, he was a lot like me, he loved sports, joking around, shooting hoops, and that watching SportsCenter was the only news worth watching, he hated the Yankees and just wanted to hang out.
The other, I was not the “Let me help you with your Math Homework” Big Brother–he would have to find a different resource. After a lengthy and highly unsuccessful attempt to help him with his math homework, Zach was smart enough to never ask me again.
A Year into our relationship his mother, Janet, was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. By age 14, Zach’s mother passed away and then, only one year later, his Father died of multiple myeloma cancer. At far too young, Zach had lost both parents. But he had his Big Brother.
From this point forward, unexpectedly our lives would forever be changed. I never thought I’d be taking him shopping to buy a new shirt and tie and for his parents funeral.
Before his mother passed away, I promised her that I would always be a part of Zach’s life. A promise I must admit, seemed daunting to even me at the time.Looking back, I was able to keep this promise because many of you in the room, knowingly or unknowingly, have been passionate supporters of Big Brother Big Sisters. So thank you.
I think about those dark days in Zach’s life, I may not have realized it then, but just being a consistent shoulder to lean on for Zach through all of the ups and downs, did make a difference.
One of the more poignant moments in our relationship happened in this dark period that is important to share as it illustrates the true essence of Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Not to feed Zach’s ego here, but he is a very good athlete and was by far the best football player on his pop warner teams.
Unfortunately, Zach’s team was terrible- When you are 15 years old, playing on a WINLESS team with all this going on in your life, Zach understandably wanted to quit football. He was filled with self-doubt, lacking confidence and looked like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
So like real men, we went to Friendly’s for an ice cream to talk things over.
Much to his surprise, I didn’t sympathize with his idea of quitting. He needed to hear advice from me and understand the consequences of quitting football. A lesson that he still carries with him today.
I knew Zach needed football, which allowed him to release some of his anger, gave him confidence and reminded him what it felt like to be great again.
Because of my promise to Zach and to his mother, and the reason I wanted to be a Big Brother– I could not allow him to quit, because quitting would haunt us both for the rest of our lives.
I will never forget that ice cream.
Zach did more than just stay in football. He became captain of both his Varsity Football and Lacrosse Teams. He became a Founder of a relay for life group. Zach became a leader on the field and in the classroom.
Zach and I don’t talk about these dark days often but I know that Zach’s unfortunate set of circumstances does not define him or our relationship. Our friendship is everlasting and we built that together.
I am proud to say he graduated from Clemson University with a 3.2 GPA, and double major in business entrepreneurship and pre-law. If I was hiring, he’d be on the top of my short list – Smart, Caring and battle tested in life.
I am proud of Zach and know his Mother is smiling down on us right now.
One of the best parts about our friendship now is that Zach is around more and I get to watch him be essentially a Big Brother with my three daughters. It’s great having another dude in the house to watch sports or talk fantasy football with. And it’s great having someone to help put up a Christmas tree CROOKED while I recovered from surgery. Zach is part of my family.
I am excited to see what Zach’s future holds. Like I said, God has a plan for all of us. I truly believe it was no accident Zach and I were matched together. He is like a son to me. And I’m so grateful for how much he’s given me over the years.
I have an amazing sense of pride and joy in watching Zach develop and grow. And no matter how rocky life gets, I count on Zach just like he counts on me.
He has made me a better father and husband. And he reminds me to appreciate the impact we all make in the lives of people we love.
Zach, I love you buddy.”
-Big Brother Marc Mingolelli