By Kate Jolley
Originally published in The Florida Times-Union
John Busam didn’t truly realize the power of a mentor until he lost his own – his father – six years ago.
“When he passed away, I went through some life changes and decided to become more involved in United Way of Northeast Florida by way of the Stein Fellowship,” he said.
United Way’s Stein Fellowship, now taking applications, pairs young professionals with established community-leader mentors. In turn, the young professionals then mentor students through United Way’s Achievers For Life program in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Florida. To apply to be a United Way Stein Fellow, visit unitedwaynefl.org/stein-fellowship.
Though Busam grew up in a military family moving up and down the eastern seaboard, both sides of his family were from St. Augustine. He had no trouble settling back into the Jacksonville area after playing soccer at the University of North Florida and joining an entry-level management training program at Enterprise Rent-a-Car 11 years ago.
Now a rental manager at Enterprise, he joined the Achievers For Life program three years ago. He was paired with his mentee Abdullah, a sixth grader at Arlington Middle School. It was through Abdullah that Busam learned the value of giving back to the next generation.
The pair recently reflected over the past three years and were amazed by how much was accomplished. They have been meeting once a week during Abdullah’s “noncore” classes to check grades and work on assignments together. If grades are looking good, the two will throw the football or play basketball or any of Abdullah’s other favorite sports.
They even talk about education after high school, which is something Abdullah – who is a recent A/B honor roll student – rarely considered.
“To see him go from a place where high school and college weren’t really a thought to it being a real thing and then being selected for a college-prep high school has been very special,” said Busam.
Over the past few years, Busam has seen the line between mentor and mentee blur. The experience has deeply impacted his life – maybe as much as Abdullah, who is now preparing to enter Stanton College Preparatory School.
“His journey and his path humble me in a lot of ways and bring me down to earth,” said Busam. “Watching his success and growth has made me grateful for the things I have, and it has given me a renewed passion for the things I do on a daily basis.”
Busam encourages those who might be entertaining the idea of mentoring to take the leap with United Way’s Achievers For Life program.
“The majority of time that I spend with Abdullah is spent listening, and that doesn’t take any special skill set,” he said. “In reality, a lot of what your mentee is looking for is someone who is there consistently.”
Busam was nominated for – and won – United Way’s “Veteran Mentor of the Year” award this year, and he hopes his involvement will spur other male professionals to join the Achievers For Life program.
“John has been a dedicated mentor to Abdullah for the past three years,” said Charis Scurry, manager of education strategies at United Way. “We need more mentors like him.”
If you are interested in becoming an Achievers For Life mentor through United Way of Northeast Florida, visit unitedwaynefl.org/achievers-for-life.
In addition, you can help prepare Achievers For Life students for school by participating in United Way of Northeast Florida and First Coast News’s “Stuff the Bus” initiative going on now through July 29. Visit unitedwaynefl.org/summerdaze for more information.