From Volunteer to Career: Meet Jay and Jamani
In 2012, Jay Cronin, then a sophomore at Boston University, may not have known what to major in, but he knew he was meant to be a Big Brother. He expected to be a mentor to his Little, Jamani, but he had no idea that his role as a Big would change the trajectory of his life. Now, in 2016, Jay and Jamani are celebrating their four year anniversary and Jay is working for Big Brothers Big Sisters!
What made you want to be a Big?
I always wanted to be a Big Brother. I don’t know exactly how I first found the organization, but while I was at university I knew I wanted to do it, but I also knew I needed a one year commitment. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I realized I’d be staying in Boston for the summer and not heading back to the UK. Shortly after realizing I’d made the decision to stay for the summer, I applied and became a Big through the program.
What was the first time meeting Jamani like?
It was scary. I remember going up and seeing this tiny person. Jamani was only a few weeks over seven years old, and he was just so small. He was sitting on this big sofa next to his mom, very shy, didn’t say much of a word. He was a bit nerve wracking, asking questions and trying to see what was going on. I had a bad ankle at the time, so I had a brace on my ankle. He kept on looking at my foot and giving me a weird look like, “why are you giving me a broken big?” We actually went for a little walk around the neighborhood and the block and chit chatted. That’s when I felt a little more ease because I realized how much he liked basketball and how excited he was to jump on a swing. It was cool.
How has your relationship grown since the first time you met Jamani?
It’s grown immensely. From the first few weeks up to the first few outings, we would talk and I’d ask him questions about school and I would get a lot of one word answers. I’d say “What was school like today?” “Good.” “What’d you do today?” “Nothing.” It was difficult to open him up and get to know him, to understand what he’s actually thinking and doing. We are a lot more open with each other now. He talks with me quite often. I talk with him on the phone. I see him more now than I ever did at first, simply because it’s more friendship now as opposed to mentoring or an obligation or a twice a month type thing.
What’s been your favorite memory or experience with Jamani so far?
I did a program called World Teach, similar to the Peace Corps but it’s a one year commitment to teach. Right before I left, I gave him this box. It was full of letters and stamps and stickers. It was really cool when I got my first letter from him. I got him this big book of stickers. I thought that would last him forever, but the first letter I received from him was just covered in stickers, even the envelope. You could barely read the address. There were stickers everywhere. I have absolutely no idea how it got through the post, but receiving that letter from him after not seeing him for a couple of months was a pretty good moment.
How have you grown from the experience of being a Big Brother?
Around the time that I decided to become a Big Brother, it was also the same time I transferred into the business school at Boston University. I’d changed my major two or three times a semester since joining Boston University. I think I was trying to figure out what it was that I wanted to do after I finished these 22 years of education. I think joining Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) and meeting Jamani, I realized how much I loved it. Starting my educational pursuits in business formed for me the road that I wanted to take to go into the non-profit sector. I think it was one of the main driving forces why I ended up joining and volunteering with World Teach, and why I ended up moving back to Boston and deciding to work for BBBS. Jamani has actually mentioned to me a few times that I totally only have this job because of him. I don’t think there is any reason I would have worked for this organization or had this opportunity if I hadn’t been a Big Brother four years ago and learned the organization from the inside out.
Do you have any advice for anyone who is thinking about becoming a Big?
Often we think we’re too busy or we get nervous about hanging out with someone a lot younger than us or we think: “Hey, I bet there is someone else who would be a better big than I or a better role model than I.” It’s a lot easier than it looks. If you just put yourself out there and be a friend and be a role model to someone, you’ll be surprised how much they look up to you, probably more than you ever looked up to yourself. It’s making that first step. Then before you know it, you’re working for a company, and it’s your job.