Since 1997, I have been volunteering as a Big Brother for a twelve-year-old boy named Lonnie through the Alameda County United Way's Big Brother/Big Sister program.  When I joined the organization, it was clear that Lonnie needed someone to boost his self-esteem. At the end of his school term, Lonnie's mother told me that he did not do very well in math so I also started to help him with his homework. We spent last summer doing extra math work, and I tried to spark his interest in math by explaining things to him using examples from his favorite activity: sports. Once he understood that math had practical value for things in his own life, he was able to catch up to other students. In the fall term Lonnie improved his grade from a C to a B. Hearing this news was one of the proudest moments of my life.
Later in the spring term, however, Lonnie experienced behavioral problems emanating from his inability to control his anger at his school, and the school authorities moved him to a special school.  He told me he missed his old school a lot and was willing to do anything for a chance to go back. He also admitted that he knew he might get his chance if he could control his anger. Seeing that Lonnie needed somebody to help him control his emotions, I worked to give him a sense of security and urged him to reason out the implications of the actions his anger drove him to. I also encouraged him to get a summer job to develop a sense of responsibility. He listened to and practiced my advice, and by the end of summer the authorities allowed him to return to his old school.
My friendship with Lonnie over the past two years is one of my proudest achievements because I have seen the tangible effect my help is having on his confidence and his life. The feeling that I can improve someone else's life by giving of myself is deeply satisfying. Before Lonnie let me help him, I used to divide the world into two parts: good and bad. The Good were the law-abiding citizens like you and me, and the Bad were the criminals we often see on TV being arrested. I firmly believed that all criminals had to be incarcerated and held responsible for their deeds. But by helping Lonnie through his behavioral problem, I realized that had all those "bad" people gotten help in their formative years, they might not have chosen the path they did.  Because of my experience with Lonnie, my whole outlook toward society and the world has changed. I no longer believe that incarcerating young people who break the law is the only solution. Though incarceration might help in the short term, the longer-term solution is to take care of the problem proactively. If we all were to devote some time and effort and influence to the lives of the less fortunate, the world would definitely be a better place to live in.
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