Andrew Chesney


Andrew Chesney


The Life-Changing Power of Mentorship

Those of us who grew up in stable homes with solid role models are very fortunate. While most of us probably did not know or appreciate it at the time, we were taught from an early age the difference between right and wrong, the proper way to treat people, respect toward others, and the importance of telling the truth and obeying the law. We were told that school was important, homework was to be done, and curfews were to be met. We had siblings that looked out for us. When we broke the rules, our actions had consequences that ensured we would think twice before breaking the rules again. Did we make bad choices from time to time? Of course, we did. However, a support system was in place to provide redirection and instruction.

Sadly, many children do not grow up in a loving and nurturing home. They may be a child where the parent is largely absent from the home or is neglected, or worse, from a home where physical, emotional, and/or substance abuse is prevalent. For these kids with the odds stacked against them, it is incumbent upon those of us who had an easier path into adulthood or succeeded despite tremendous odds to step up and provide examples and guidance that is missing in these kids’ lives.

The importance and value of youth mentorship cannot be understated at a time when incidents of domestic violence are regularly reported in police reports and when gangs are actively recruiting young people to get involved with their criminal enterprises. Whatever the reason, when a child is recommended for mentorship, a well-functioning adult can help them through challenging experiences, life transitions, and stressful changes at home, school, or in their community.

After finishing college in Arizona, I lived there for a few years. While there, I contacted a Big Brothers Big Sisters organization and expressed an interest in becoming a mentor, known as a “Big.” After a background check and a screening and matching process, I was paired with a 10-year-old child who had a very difficult home environment. As we slowly got to know each other, it became evident that my role as a “Big” would require some elements of parenting that he was not receiving at home, so our relationship evolved a little differently than many of the other Big Brother Big Sister pairings.

As years passed, our mentor-mentee relationship continued, and as his home life further deteriorated, I took on more of the parental responsibilities for him. In addition, we began enjoying many of the experiences he had missed that a father would typically enjoy with a son. I took him on his first camping trip, enrolled him in hunter safety classes, and taught him how to shoot a gun. I taught him how to drive a car, and a few years later helped him enroll in his first classes at Highland Community College. I was also there and helped him purchase his first car.

During those difficult teenage and young adult years, it was important that he knew he had a safe place to go and an individual to talk to when he needed it. He moved into our home with my wife and me the day after he turned 18. There were bumps in the road, but with structure and support in place, he has overcome many obstacles.

Fifteen years have now passed since Nicholas and I were paired through Big Brothers Big Sisters. Nicholas has completed community college and has a good job in the healthcare field. His life is filled with possibilities, and he is excited about his future.

Friday, April 26, was a very special day for us. We were at the Stephenson County Courthouse, and Nicholas, now 25 years old, was officially adopted by my wife and me, and he legally took the Chesney family name. We could not be prouder that he is our son.

Clearly, our mentor-mentee experience was different than most, but one thing is certain, it wasn’t just Nicholas’ life that was improved. Ours was too. And as my wife Kelly celebrated her first Mother’s Day recently, that fact was undeniably clear in our home.


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