December 17, 2014
Holiday Series: Laura Bush, Ph.D.
At Highway Twenty, we believe in doing meaningful work that produces high quality results for our clients. We work with organizations and projects that make a difference in our community, so loving our work comes easy. The Highway Twenty team recently took time out to share meaningful experiences that impacted them in a series of interviews. This is the fourth blog in the series.
With a passion for extended family ties, Highway Twenty’s Communications Director Laura Bush, Ph.D., describes the impact of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona while showcasing the benefits of bridging across different backgrounds and cultures.
Describe your most recent volunteer experience.
My most recent and long-term experience is volunteering as a Big Sister for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona. I’ve done that for 14 years since finishing my Ph.D. in English at Arizona State University. As a single woman and after getting my Ph.D., I said to myself, “I really want to have a long-term relationship with a child and impact that child’s life in a more meaningful way.” So I became a Big Mentor.
Can you describe the work of big brothers big sisters?
Big Brothers Big Sisters is an organization that makes one-to-one mentoring available for children. As an adult mentor, which we call the “Big,” I’m matched with a younger person, called a “Little.” Our relationship is one-to-one mentoring versus a one-to-many relationship that you might find at Boys and Girls clubs, for example. In the BBBS program, an adult makes an agreement to meet with his or her “Little” at least two times a month to do something together. I’ve always tried to do fun activities and service-related actives, or ask my Littles what they wanted to do. Before they became teenagers, they were often just happy to run errands with me on Saturday or go to the grocery store–that was fun for them. Then we’d go out to eat or go to a movie. As they got older, I had to come with more creative things to do. When my first Little, Jade, turned 12, she and I became volunteer ushers at Herberger Theatre in downtown Phoenix for three years. I also taught her how to play tennis.
How has that experience shaped you as the person you are today?
The experience shaped who I am because it gave me opportunities to be part of a child’s life growing up. I also learned about cultures and ways of life I wouldn’t have known about without becoming part of my Littles’ families in some way. When I was matched with Jade, she was 10 years old and had just moved with her mother from Brooklyn, but her family originally came from Guyana in South America. I came from small town Jackson Hole, Wyoming. They were black; I was white. We both brought different experiences and backgrounds to our relationship.
I went to visit Brooklyn with Jade about the second year we were matched, and she visited Wyoming and Utah with me where members of my family lived. Over many years, we’ve become extended family members. When Jade had a little sister, Imani, I also became a Big Sister to her, although we’ve never formally been “matched” through BBBS. I also spend lots of time with Jade’s cousin, but we’re not formally “matched” either. My formal BBBS match with Jade, which lasted for eight years (until she graduated from high school), and then my formal BBBS match with my second Little, Aiyanna, which lasted for six years, has given me a unique opportunity to make a long-term difference in these children’s lives. Because I didn’t give birth to my own children, I think my Littles have made an even bigger difference in my life through all the joy and experiences they’ve brought me over many years.
Can you describe a moment where you felt you were truly making an impact?
Just recently Jade, who is now 24, posted on my Facebook page. She noticed I had been to a Vietnamese restaurant because I had taken a picture of the food. She knew what kind of food it was, and wrote, “That’s part of my childhood.” At that moment, I realized Vietnamese food was something I “gave” her as a child because I took her to a Vietnamese restaurant, which she might not have done on her own. Maybe that example was more showing the impact Jade has had on my life. I realized that it made a difference to her for me to expose her to different food from different cultures and for us both to appreciate and value many cultures and many different people.
Why do you think it’s important that people be exposed to different cultures and that we make such bridges?
I think because we have blind spots in our lives, and we don’t see how we may sometimes negatively interact with people in the world simply because we don’t understand or value their culture and their way of doing things. To me, being exposed to many different cultures (and not just their food, either, but to their family life, what they do for fun or work, how they view the world) has me be a more compassionate, forgiving, open, and accepting person.
How does your interest for volunteering tie back to working at highway twenty?
I love working at Highway Twenty because I think the people who are attracted to working at this organization are attracted to doing good in the world and making a difference–that’s what being a volunteer is all about. I get to bring that volunteer spirit to my work and actually impact, support, and empower nonprofit organizations. It’s a dream fulfilled to be able to work daily in behalf of organizations and people who do good.