A Personal Reflection by Mark Kuperstock
If I may indulge you for a few minutes ....
At the turn of the new year, I concluded a three year term as the President of the Board of Directors of JBBBSLA (Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters Los Angeles). I will remain an active Board Member for hopefully, many years to come.
This non-profit agency has been near and dear to my heart for more than three decades, having become a volunteer “Big Brother” in 1988. Initially I thought I was doing something nice for some random kid. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The real beneficiary of this volunteer gig was me, as it opened my eyes to a world of which I knew very little. My “Little Brother” was shy & quiet. He didn’t come from the poor part of town or from a home that might appear on Jerry Springer. He needed a male role model. Plain and simple. We were “officially” matched for 10 years and remain in contact to this day, 32 years later.
But my relationship with my “Little” was just the tip of the iceberg.
As I became more active in the organization I learned JBBBSLA owned and operated a non secular camp, for 8 - 18 year old “under served” kids from the economically challenged parts of Los Angeles. I learned most of these kids had never been out of the city before that first trip to camp in the hills around Glendale. Ridden a horse? Never. How about swim, perform in plays, rock climb, hike, play baseball or soccer on a turf field, tend to an organic garden? Never, until they came to camp. How about 3 great meals a day plus snacks? How about interacting with a loving and caring staff and group of counselors that amazingly, seemed to connect, really connect, with almost every camper? Most first time campers come in with fear and apprehension, if not in tears. By the time they leave, they’ve made life long friends and hope to return the next summer. And by meeting some fairly simple criteria, they’re eligible for free college guidance counseling and college scholarships when the time comes. Did I mention camp can cost as little as ZERO to attend? All based on ability to pay. Some families pay $50.00 for an entire 10 day session, some $5.00, the majority pay nothing. This is just ONE of our programs.
Later, and after joining the Board of Directors, I learned of and became a part of creating some very exciting programs in addition to our mentoring work and camp : all aimed at helping kids:
• A college guidance program to help kids navigate the complex process of choosing the right schools to apply to AND how to apply.
• A teen targeted program bringing professionals and business leaders to speak, empower and inspire our “kids”.
• An APP based peer-to-peer counseling program to help kids cope with social/emotional issues. The “counselors” are teens from our other programs required to complete 50+ hours of training. (Note: professional social workers/therapists monitor the “text conversations” ready to step in if things get too heavy).
If I told you we expect upwards of 35,000 kids to be touched by all of our endeavors, would you be surprised? It’s true.
We also conduct many other secular and non-secular events throughout the year.
Starting as a volunteer “Big Brother” has led to a lifetime of witnessing change and opportunity. Change that is palpable: listening to a college student from the poorest part of town, attended our camping program, received a college scholarship from us and is on his or her way to a life of opportunity and hope. This same student may speak of kids he or she grew up with and are either dead, in a gang, in jail, hooked on drugs, pregnant or already have multiple kids.
This is the difference between hope and no hope. The difference between opportunity and despair. These are kids. Soon, they will be adults. We try to help them along the way. Is there a greater cause?
So, over the past 32 years I’ve experienced a lot in the world, in my personal life and in my business pursuits. Besides marrying my wife and becoming a father, JBBBSLA has had the greatest impact on my life. And, I will tell you this: I am a changed man. You cannot witness these things and not be.