National Volunteer Week: Meet Bhanu
This National Volunteer Week, we’re highlighting one of our very own Mentor 2.0 mentors, a huge advocate of our mission and one of the strongest defenders of potential that we know, Bhanu.
1. How did you decide to get involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay?
2016-17 were the years of serious self-reflection for me. Even after doing relatively well in my personal and professional life, I felt something was always missing. I was reluctant to call it a ‘Quarter-Life Crisis’, but in fact, it was a quarter-life crisis. A series of soul-searching experiences led me to ask the very existential question to myself: “Why am I here in this world?” Unfortunately, asking this question didn’t lead me to any answers. So instead, I asked a different question to myself: “What made me be the person I am today?” The answer was my education and the incredible support and guidance I received from my family, teachers, friends, and all the mentors I had throughout my life.
That was the moment I decided to give back the experiences and the advice that led me to where I am today. Timing was perfect, and I received an invitation for a Lunch-and-Learn session from our Accenture Boston office where an esteemed speaker from the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay was going to introduce the Mentor 2.0 program. I immediately signed up. However, I couldn’t attend the session. Fortunately, there was a flyer that was shared during the session which was circulated to all invitees. I read about the program and it was exactly what I needed! A mentoring program curated to meet the demanding schedules of busy professionals. There was a sign-up link in the flyer. I clicked on it which led me to an online form. I filled all the details which took less than 15 mins of my time. And here I am!
See, it was that simple yet so significant.
2. How long have you been involved with the organization?
I submitted my Mentor 2.0 application on September 11th, 2017, attended my interview on September 21st, 2017, and received my match confirmation on September 30th, 2017. Overall, it’s been 1 year and 5 months since my first in-person meeting with my mentee, Manny, on November 16th, 2017.
I will never forget any of these dates.
3. What does being a mentor mean to you?
To be a mentor is about building strong and trusted relationships in order to foster the true potential of today’s youth that we hope will become brave and responsible leaders of tomorrow. It is about being a constant reminder to my mentee that he has the potential beyond the scopes of his own imagination. It is about caring, listening, and paying attention to him. It is also about self-improvements. Acknowledging my own biases and putting them aside and opening myself to learn from others to be a better mentor every day.
It is also about leaving behind a legacy and creating a ripple effect. I get this question asked a lot: “What has been the biggest reward for you being a mentor?” and my response has always been: “The biggest reward for me will be the moment a few years in the future when people will approach Manny asking, ‘how are you such a great mentor?’. If his response to that question would be ‘Because I had a great mentor,’ then I know I will have been successful.”
Leaving such legacy with Manny and the generations after him will be the biggest reward I could expect from this whole experience. I look forward for that day to come to life.
4. What about our Mentor 2.0 program stood out to you compared to our others?
There were many factors, but some of the biggest ones that are unique to Mentor 2.0 and stood out for me were:
a. The use of online platform for weekly lessons: It gives me the flexibility to access the lessons anywhere and at any time. It also allows me to finish the lessons in parts. For example, during busy weeks at work, I can start writing my response on any day (the response gets auto-saved as I write) and then I can finish it in parts before Manny finally sees it. Auto-generated reminders from the portal ensures that I finish the lessons on time.
b. The 2 hours of monthly in-person meeting and the make-up events: This is a reasonable commitment for me to make every month given my busy work schedule. The best part is that the calendar for the monthly events of the entire year is posted at the start of school year. It allows me to make arrangements in my weeks ahead of time. And if I ever miss an event due to any reason, I can make up for it by meeting Manny at a make-up event.
c. The delicious food that’s served at every monthly event: The response to this question is incomplete without an honorable mention to the delicious food that’s served during every monthly event. I always arrive hungry after a long day at work!
d. Monthly Match Support calls: The monthly match support calls with our program coordinators are also my favorite part of the program. It allows me to keep a track of Manny’s progress in his academic and personal life and address any concerns that Manny or I are feeling about our match. It provides me all the support that I need to be a better mentor. Our program coordinator (now Mrs. Frey) plays an important role of a bridge between me and Manny.
5. Do you have a special moment of memory with your mentee that stands out to you?
When I was signing up to become a mentor in the Mentor 2.0 program, I was nervous and had a few concerns. I grew up and completed my education in India, so I was unfamiliar with the education system in the US; I wasn’t sure if I would be successful as mentor. On top of that, English is my second language and I have an accent, so I was always concerned about if I would be able to communicate successfully with my mentee. When Manny and I first met at his school on November 16th, 2017, my fears had come to pass. The classroom was very loud, and I thought I wouldn’t be able to speak with him properly. At first, both Manny and I weren’t sure about how things were going to work, and I was brand new to mentoring myself. However, it was only a matter of time and effort. Giving up was never an option! We spent time to get to know each other and it was Manny’s great listening skills and patience with me that we were able to find a great mentor-mentee groove.
Manny is a very mature student with great social-emotional intelligence. A few months ago, during one of the monthly Mentor 2.0 events, I shared with him about a project I worked hard at but didn’t get the results I was expecting. After listening to my story, he said, “Failures are part of life and they only make us stronger.” Hearing such mature statement from a high school student was a sweet surprise to me. I feel proud in calling myself Manny’s mentor. (Do I sound like a mentor who wants to brag about his mentee? I mean, why not! He IS the best.)
6. Recently, some of our mentees actually went to your office (Accenture) on a field trip; how did this idea come up?
The 2 hours that Manny and I get to spend every month are never enough given the plethora of things that we want to talk about every time. I wanted to hang out with Manny outside of the program curriculum to further strengthen my relationship with him, but I knew that we weren’t qualified to do so just yet, according to the program guidelines. During one of my match support calls with Mrs. Frey, she mentioned that even though the EMK is a Health Career focused school, there are students who won’t necessarily have a career interest in that area. Also, the fact that the students must be given an exposure to all the career opportunities that are out there so that they can make an informed decision as they step closer towards filling their college applications. And that was it! That moment originated the idea of Accenture hosting Mentor 2.0 students for a field trip.
I am fortunate to work with an incredible team at Accenture, who were very accepting of (and excited about) the idea, and my leadership team, who gave me the absolute freedom and flexibility to run with it. It was the efforts of my team, our volunteers in respective sections of the field trip, Mrs. Frey, and, of course, the students, that helped us host a successful event and brought a truly memorable experience to life.
7. We see so many programs encouraging youth to get involved in tech, science, math, etc. do you think our partnership, and the field trip with Accenture, will influence our Mentor 2.0 mentees?
During the field trip, the students experienced a lot of things: They got insights in to what our employees working in various industries do on a daily basis. They toured the office, received great resume building and interview tips from our campus recruitment lead herself, and attended a mock-interview workshop. Besides all of that, one of my favorite moments in the entire day was when the students got a tour to our ‘Liquid Studio’, which is a platform dedicated to innovation and emerging technologies such as Virtual Reality, Machine Learning, Robotics, and Artificial Intelligence at Accenture (a lot of cool stuff!).
The expressions and emotions that every student had on his/her face during the entire time cannot be explained well enough in mere words. One can only imagine what this experience was like for the kids by some of the comments I got to hear from them:
Manny: “This is so cool! I am so determined to work here (Accenture)!”
Another student: “This is the best day I ever had!”
Mrs. Frey: “Throughout the day, I could almost see each kid as the future doctor, software developer, designer, or physical therapist they dream of becoming. It was incredible!”
So, yes! The field trip has already encouraged many students to get involved in emerging tech. We look forward to continuing our partnership with BBBSMB and bring more such influencing experiences to life in the coming days.
8. You are an amazing mentor in our program, but we want to know if you have any mentors of your own in your work or personal life.
First, Thank you! And yes; I do have mentors in different areas of my life. At work, my mentor is my career counselor who assures that I am always true to my career aspirations and keeps a watch on my professional growth- a close colleague and friend who I can turn to for anything or when I need a shoulder to cry on. I also have many annoying friends who make sure I am always having fun, and, of course, my family, especially my mom, who taught me to always stick with 3 words, “Hope, Faith, and Love,” and assures that I continue to do so.
9. We talk so much about the influence a mentor has over his/her mentee, and what a mentee can learn from his/her mentor, but at BBBSMB, we’re firm believers that it works both ways. What have you learned from your mentee?
I also truly believe that relationship building is a two-way street and that both of us have unique things to contribute to and learn from each other. Manny is a charming student who’s taught me how to stay calm and happy even in moments of failures and sorrow. Manny and I have learned the lessons of grit, resilience, perseverance, and kindness together. Having each other in our lives has taught us the importance of being responsible and accountable. Also, the Mentor 2.0 weekly online lessons and conversations are helping both of us to improve our reading and writing skills.
My relationship with Manny has affected me deeply at a personal level. Manny is the reason I am encouraged to be a better person every day. With each passing day, Manny and Mentor 2.0 are helping me remove any unconscious bias that the cycle of socialization and systems of oppression have built upon me. I firmly believe that the moment we shy away from speaking up on topics that would make us uncomfortable is the moment we continue to maintain the systems of oppression. Accepting and acknowledging such biases within us is only a first step towards breaking that system. It must be followed by a series of actions and by allowing ourselves to learn from others. I am grateful for this platform where I have been given an opportunity to share my experiences and learn from Manny and other fellow mentors.
10. As you know, we are always in need of more Bigs, especially men. If you could give one piece of advice to anyone on the fence about volunteering, what would it be?
(My response is directly addressed to the person who’s on the fence about mentoring)
The first thing I would do is to acknowledge all your concerns. It is understandable given the commitment you’ve been asked to make on top of your personal and professional engagements. When I was signing up, I too had questions. But the set of questions that I had also included a few extra concerns. I did not have my education in the US; I was born and brought up in India, so I wasn’t familiar with the US education system at all. On top of that, I am a non-native citizen in the US and as a matter of fact, I am on a work visa here. So, due to the nature of my work, I wasn’t just concerned about leaving Boston but the United States at any time. Regardless of all these concerns, I still signed up. And it was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.
We often deprive ourselves of life’s joys by worrying too much about the unknown. Sure, you can play safe and never make mistakes or have to deal with an uncomfortable, new situation. But guess what happens next- eventually, you, too, may notice that there is something missing in your life. A better way in this situation is to take chances. Not only will you emerge as a more confident self but also a true leader. So, sign-up today! I can already envision you, too, saying a year later that it was one of the best decisions of your life.