Shelby Edmoundson’s volunteerism is all about quality time, but it doesn’t have to be extravagant, the 30-year-old Houston, Texas resident says. “Sometimes we’re going to the car wash or church together, other times we go to the skating rink.”
It’s in those moments, spending quality time with her Big Brother Big Sister (BBBS) mentee, that Shelby is building upon the bond the two have formed over nearly seven years of service. As the nation’s largest donor- and volunteer-supported mentoring network, BBBS makes meaningful, monitored matches between adult volunteers (“Bigs”) and children (“Littles”) ages 5 through young adult in communities across the country. Through volunteerism, Shelby is contributing to the critical social and emotional development needed to help build resilience and promote the mental health and wellbeing of thousands of children served across America.
What inspires you to volunteer?
Service was modeled for me growing up. Volunteering was always very important in my community. Government and social services are essential and can make a difference, but for my volunteering role specifically, one-on-one mentorship to youth in our cities is the community’s job.
Describe your volunteerism with BBBS.
As a volunteer, I connect with my Little, Re’Nah, a couple times a month, ideally in person. We connect on a regular basis, I stay in tune with her and her family, take her for outings or to hang out. You’re also partnering with the guardian or parent, as a lot of families are single family homes, adding an additional adult presence and support for the child and (for the parent.) Over our almost seven year match, I have watched Re’Nah grow from a timid 8-year-old into a spunky 15-year-old. We have celebrated academic achievements and dreamed about what the future might hold as she transitions into adulthood in a few years.
Share one personal story with me from your volunteerism.
Re’Nah was struggling with reading a few years back. I really encouraged her and we made our own reading project over the summer. After that summer, she asked if I could attend an awards ceremony honoring her progress and achievement in reading. That was really cool and tangible. I wasn’t doing the work, but empowering her to know she is capable and seeing her potential blossom was really special.
Why do you think it’s important for others to get involved?
Everybody feels better when they’re helping other people, whether it’s giving people directions or something like (my service) impacting someone over a span of years. We’re a part of this global community and helping each other only helps us thrive. We’re all built into different circumstances, some more difficult than others. It’s important to recognize and help others facing more challenges succeed.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your service?
Most volunteers have the same thought: I’m getting way more out of it than I’m putting in. I’ve gotten to know their family well and they’re an extension of my family now. That’s extremely rewarding, an extension of family that is frankly from a different community than I am from. For me, it’s critical in my faith to love others and take care of those around us. (I’m) giving a lot of time and effort into a young person’s life because there were a lot of people in my life who did that for me, to make me feel empowered and capable.
How have you continued to volunteer throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?
We talked pretty often during the pandemic, there were some tearful conversations from both of us. The time was confusing and difficult for adults, but I think we undervalue how difficult and hard it was for children. There were difficult but also sweet times, us recognizing the bond and friendship we have. In addition to communicating on the phone, I sent her packages with coloring books and art supplies to keep her busy and have things to do rather than just sitting home and watching TV because of school closures.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
Don’t be afraid to step out and commit to something. Some people’s lives only allow them to commit to the occasional volunteer opportunity. I was looking for something relational in nature that would be deeply impactful.
In one word, what does volunteering mean to you?
How can readers help?
If readers know a youth in their community who could benefit from BBBS mentorship, please nominate them to be Littles. For more information, please visit the Big Brother Big Sister website.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Shelby Edmoundson? Find local volunteer opportunities.