Mentoring Real Life Story: Marc & Zach
Marc Mingolelli became a Big Brother at age 24, but after only a year together in their friendship his Little Brother Zach’s mom was diagnosed with cancer, and within two years Zach lost both of his parents. Their story defies incredible odds and was featured at Big Night 2015. Here is the inspiring story of their 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, 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; he thought SportsCenter was the only news worth watching, he hated the Yankees and just wanted to hang out. The other reality: I was not the ideal “Let me help you with your math homework” Big Brother. After one highly unsuccessful attempt, 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. Zach had lost both parents far too young. But he had his Big Brother.
I never thought I’d be taking him shopping to buy a shirt and tie and for his parents’ funeral, but before his mother passed away I promised her that I would always be a part of Zach’s life. Looking back, I was able to keep this promise because many of you in this room 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 helps illustrate the true essence of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Zach was by far the best player on his Pop Warner football team, but unfortunately his team was terrible and Zach began talking about quitting football. So like real men, we went to Friendly’s for an ice cream to talk things over.
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. He 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 his 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 a 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 I get to watch Zach be essentially a Big Brother with my three daughters. It’s great having another dude in the house to watch sports with or talk fantasy football. 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 and proud to see what Zach’s future holds. I believe God has a plan for all of us and that it’s no accident that 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. 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