Why Mentoring Matters
Walt Wake and Aaron Olofsson in May 2015 at the 8th Grade Moving Up Day Dance. It was moments like these when Wake showed up to be part of Olofsson’s life that a bond was made that would weather time and distance.
Walt Wake had the opportunity to become a mentor while working for Hendrick Volvo Cars of Charleston through a partnership that Charleston-area Hendrick Automotive Group dealerships started with Be A Mentor. Walt recalls his mentee, Aaron Olofsson was a middle school student, who by all accounts was a really bright child. So it didn’t make sense to Walt, that Aaron was failing some of his classes. Little did Walt know that Aaron felt lost in this world. What Walt did discover, however, was that this was due to Aaron not participating in homework assignments, and needing help in math and science. Walt also discovered that Aaron wanted to follow his brothers’ footsteps in becoming a Marine. So Walt used this information as an opportunity to have an important conversation with Aaron. “What do you have to do to become a Marine?” Walt asked. “Graduate” replied Aaron. This response gave Walt the ability to come to Aaron with goals. Not huge goals, but smaller attainable ones. First goal? Completing and handing in homework assignments. Aaron completed these tasks, and Walt celebrated with him along the way. Aaron’s grades subsequently went up, and they celebrated with things like pizza parties. Aaron looked forward to completing the tasks set before him, and eventually passed his classes in middle school which allowed him to move up to a high school in West Ashley.
Aaron attended high school armed with an abundance of information and organizational skills he may not have acquired if not for Walt. He recalls Walt buying him an accordion style binder notebook, which was a big help. Aaron acknowledges that Walt had a large hand in shaping him into who he has become. One of the things Walt told Aaron that stuck with him throughout was: “Better to have what you don’t need, than to need what you don’t have.”
At the high school in West Ashley, Aaron was receiving B’s and C’s, and Walt was excited to see that Aaron also had come up with a four- year plan. His goal was to join the ROTC, but unfortunately, West Ashley only had a Navy ROTC. Aaron was determined, and for his sophomore year, he moved out to live with his brother in Belmont, North Carolina so he’d have access to the Marine ROTC program. Walt eventually retired and moved to Colorado to be closer to his family, figuring that the connection with Aaron was forever lost. So Walt was extremely surprised when he received a message from Aaron on his instant messenger. In that very moment, Aaron was in a recruiter’s office, signing up to become a Marine. He would be graduating in 2019, to finally becoming a Marine. Aaron wanted Walt to be there. Because of Walt, Aaron had the structure to follow through with his dream. Aaron sees Walt truly like a father-figure, and can’t wait for the day to be able to give back by mentoring a student of his own. When asked about what advice he’d have for someone thinking about mentoring, Walt states “I’d say, don’t let a sixth grader (or any other age kid) intimidate you. It’s easy to get to know someone. And in getting to know them, you can help them. Everyone has the ability to make a difference in one person’s life like Loren Eisley conveys in his original work called The Star Thrower later adapted into The Starfish Story. Aaron made me realize deep in my heart that even if I only helped one or two kids, I did make a lasting difference to them”.
How can you help a younger person in the community today? What mentoring opportunities surround you?