Being the Big Sister

Mentors give a lot and get back more
Kate Melton

I am an unapologetic Oprah fan. She is my only answer to “What celebrity would you want to have dinner with?” This quote, attributed to her, now elevates her to my imaginary best friend status.

“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the higher part of yourself when sometimes it becomes hidden to yourself.”

Yes O, you get it.

Ten years ago, I felt a nameless yearning for something more in my life. My two daughters were embarking on grown-up lives of their own, and I felt restless for a sense of purpose. I longed for that elusive feeling when you know that what you say or do has made an impact. It pestered me, it nagged at me, and it motivated me.

I went to a volunteer orientation at Big Brothers Big Sisters and felt something crystallize within me. My inner voice was getting louder, and I knew then that I wanted to be a mentor. 

Enter Jess—adorable, smart, and playful. We clicked immediately. I couldn’t wait to get started and show her all the things we could experience together—the zoo, the movie theater, go-karts, a ball game—the possibilities were seemingly endless!

What I didn’t know then is that Jess would come to show me so much more. While I was running us from one activity to the next, Jess was quietly teaching me the importance of being present. When I was quick to respond with an anecdote to a story she shared, she was showing me by example how to pause before responding. I found myself starting to put my phone away and postpone clearing the dishes to linger over meals with her.

The shift was a subtle one, but Jess, having already mastered the art of being still, was patiently guiding me. I was a slow learner, but I was getting there. The way that Jess responds to her life struggles has challenged me to reframe mine as well. Her gentle gift was giving me the chance to bear witness to not only her self-discovery but also my own.

The beauty in our relationship is that though I am deeply connected, I am not as entrenched in it as a parent. I am a caring adult friend, so my reactions are more measured and less emotionally charged. Jess has learned that she can tell me anything and I won’t blink.

Believe me, my own teenage daughters at the time were not so lucky. Despite my missteps and overreactions, they are now amazing young women who have gone on to mentor in their own ways, and that makes my heart absolutely swell.

My relationship with Jess has no expiration date. She is a part of my fabric.

Last year, Big Brothers Big Sisters asked me to join them in sharing their vision of helping other children like Jess to reach their potential. It was a pivotal moment, not only for my career but for my spirit as well. It is a mission I felt in my bones. I quietly gave thanks to the circumstances that brought Jess and me together so long ago.

I am now partnering with community-minded people interested in investing in the children we serve. Together we are raising the awareness and resources necessary to help every child who needs one get matched with a mentor. This pursuit makes me happy every single day. Even after witnessing Jess develop into an A student with college dreams, I was astonished to learn that for the past several years, 100 percent of children mentored through Big Brothers Big Sisters who were eligible to graduate from high school, did. That is a staggering number compared to the city average.

Mentoring simply works— for the children, for our community, and for those of us who enter into it hoping to make a difference in the life of a child and come away transformed ourselves.


Dorothy Howe Kelley and Jess recently celebrated their ten-year match anniversary as Big and Little Sisters. Kelley is development officer at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Rochester.

Categories: Current Issue – Grow, Grow