Big Brothers mentor, Manny Marrero, OT, came to the Cape looking for a way to make a difference. He found Ronnie.
Manny Marrero has many roles. He is an Occupational Therapist for the CCHC Behavioral Health Partial Hospitalization Program. He volunteers on four community boards. He teaches yoga on the weekend. And he’s studying for his MBA.
But the role he’s most proud of is that of mentor. He’s a “Big” for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cape Cod and the Islands and this year, he’s been named, along with a female counterpart, “Bigs of the Year.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters serves more than 400 children, partnering each of them with an adult mentor who can spend time, offer guidance and act as a role model for those who could use additional support. Every year, Big Brothers Big Sisters honors a male and female mentor for exhibiting an exceptionally positive influence over his/her “Little” throughout their time together.
Marrero’s decision to volunteer as a Big Brother came during a time of transition. After spending 10 years in the Marine Corps and becoming an occupational therapist, Marrero moved to the Cape and was looking for a way to integrate himself into his new community. A newspaper article about the Big Brothers Big Sisters program spurred him into action.
“They were looking for adult males to volunteer and I thought – that’s it!” he said. “What better organization to do this for.”
The idea felt familiar, as Marrero himself had been mentored as a child through a local summer program.
As a 10-year-old boy living in New York City, Marrero spent time with Jamie, who mentored him over the course of a year. They visited sporting events together, played sports and had adventures in the city.
“He showed me a lot of things I wasn’t normally exposed to,” he said. “I grew up in Harlem, and he showed me parts of the city that were out of reach for me at the time. He was a kind and fun person. Just the way he would carry himself taught me a lot.”
It just felt right
Marrero went through the process of applying and interviewing and Big Brothers matched him with Ronnie, a 9-year-old boy who had been on the waiting list for a “Big” for a while.
“We hit it off right away,” he said. “We both liked sports: football, basketball, riding bikes. We liked similar teams, enjoyed hiking. We played lots of miniature golf, went to the driving range.”
They’ve spent time together for four years. Marrero said that being with Ronnie makes him feel like a kid again and that although he’s the mentor, he’s gained so much from his Little.
And in nominating his Big for the annual recognition, Ronnie was grateful for the experience, too.
“I hope I taught Manny how much one person can impact an individual because he’s definitely had a positive impact on my life. There’s never really been a struggle at all in my relationship with Manny. We clicked almost immediately and have been tight since we first met.”
A good relationship with Ronnie’s mother and siblings has led Marrero to feel connected, like part of an extended family. Engaged and welcoming from the start, Ronnie’s mother has said her son’s school performance has improved and that he has a better outlook on the future. For Marrero, Ronnie’s development as a person has been gratifying to watch.
“Now that he’s 13, a teenager, he has more confidence. He’s taking the lead more, asking to go to the driving range and taking the lead on what we do on our days together. He’s gained that independence of taking charge and being a leader now.”
Stepping back to see clearly
As an OT in the CCHC Behavioral Health Partial Hospitalization Program, Marrero was careful to calibrate his professional and personal roles when volunteering for Big Brothers.
“When I decided to be a mentor, I reminded myself not to try to be a mental health therapist or try to look at Ronnie or anyone else through that lens.” He said. “I tried to just be me and have fun and be present.”
What he does for work does have a positive influence, however. Employing a non-judgmental, kind, compassionate mindset, causing the least harm to another and easing suffering wherever possible, are some his professional guiding principles.
“We’ve had conversations about what I do for a living and I think he knows he can be vulnerable if he needed to be,” he said. “When Ronnie has struggled in the past, I’ve said, ‘I practice mindfulness, I take a breath.’ Kids learn from modelling and watching how adults operate. That’s how I try to approach it.”
Marrero said there were really no surprises involved in taking on a role as a Big Brother, other than the realization that mentoring wasn’t the heavy time commitment most people might think. A few hours a day, a few days a month has led to an amazing experience in giving and receiving the benefits of a positive relationship.
“It’s a way to volunteer time to a youth who’s at risk and to make the community a better place. You’re that mentor, that pillar that can provide a different perspective and a positive example,” Marrero said. “You can impact a young person’s life forever in a positive way.”