JaRon Dorenzo and Mary Beth Collins

When Mary Beth Collins thinks about her relationship with her “little,” JaRon Dorenzo, she said the theme is “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Over the last six years, the weekly meetings of basketball games, camping trips and grabbing ice cream have added up to a bond both describe as “just like family.”

Although Collins doesn’t see her interactions with JaRon as extraordinary, Dane County’s chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters would disagree. Collins won “Big of the Year,” an honor given to the program’s top mentors. Mary Beth and JaRon met when he was 10. This fall, he’ll be a junior at Verona Area High School. Mary Beth and JaRon shared with the Cap Times how their relationship has grown over time and offered tips for other community members who may be interested in mentorship.

JaRon, why did you want a mentor?

I am an only child. I thought that it would be a good experience to have a big sister or big brother and it turned out to be.

Mary Beth, you’ve mentored JaRon since he was 10. How has your relationship changed over time?

When JaRon was younger, we would do things like go to a sporting or community event on the weekends. Now that he is a teenager, it is a little bit more fluid. In the high school years, for better or worse, it is getting heavier and schedules are more challenging. We are talking more about goal-oriented things because you have to more carefully mind the things you want to accomplish at this stage of youth.

Some things have stayed the same. Throughout the years, we’ve gone camping, fishing or other outdoors things we both appreciate. I think JaRon’s mom appreciates that because she’s not that into it. (They laughed.)

My kids have always been a part of our time together, as well. That’s cool to see how that part of our relationship has changed too because my son is in college and he’ll come back and pick JaRon up by himself and sometimes my daughter will do the same since she drives, too. It really makes me happy to see their relationship with each other growing up.

We are really lucky. I don’t think it can be expected that everyone who meets through the program will have such an easy, familial connection like we’ve had. It’s hard to articulate what you get out of the feeling of having a strong circle, or "web" as I've called it before, but that's been developed through the years across our families, and that means a lot. We’ve both had ups and downs in our lives. We do fun things together, but it’s also about building that foundation, a web of support that feels a little more like family. When you know you can call each other no matter what is going on. That has been a point of strength for all of us involved in the relationship.

What are some memories that stick out to you?

Mary Beth: When we first met, it would have seemed crazy to think that we’d go on a road trip to Washington D.C., but we did that together. We went in January 2017 and visited the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, and got to experience a little bit of the Women’s March, other parts of the city, and the monuments, too.

I’ve visited the museum, too. It’s powerful. How did that trip come about and what did you get out of that experience?

JaRon: I liked it, I learned some stuff that I didn’t know about. I liked the music exhibit. Some of my favorite artists, like Biggie Smalls and Tupac (were featured).

Mary Beth: The trip came from conversations that his mom and I had after the election. She expressed disappointment that she had not been able to get to D.C. while President Obama was in office. It was a really special eight years and would have been a good time to visit the Capitol with JaRon. So, I said, “We could do something crazy and go out during the Women’s March!” It wouldn’t be the same, but it might be an OK time to be there because of the energy and excitement. We found a nice Airbnb in Baltimore and every day, we drove in. It was fast and furious. We did the whole thing in four days. The three of us are good road trippers. This dude is really good at navigating the big city and the metro system, I discovered. All weekend, his mom and I said, “JaRon knows where to go and how to get there!”

Mary Beth, you said you’ve exposed JaRon to some new things. Would you say he’s changed your worldview?

I met JaRon, his mom and their community before I was really aware of how my little world in Madison wasn't representative of the rest of the city. Even with my kids going to East High School, we’re doing better in some ways of having exposure to a broad section of the community than perhaps other people in the area. But (JaRon’s family) had a totally different Madison experience. His mom grew up here, went to West High School, has friends who have a lot of history here, and also had Chicago and Mississippi roots that are connected to their Madison scene. I didn’t know anything about that part of the community in the way that I do now since getting to know their family.

I think the way BBBS sets it up, you are going to see your little regularly, so it helps to give structure to form your relationship. I am sure if I would have met JaRon and his mom at a party, I would have really liked them, but I am not sure I would have followed up, in the same way, to spend that kind of time together. Having a relationship with them, their family and community has given me another part of Madison I wouldn't have otherwise had.

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JaRon has given me some really good perspective on his passions, too, like auto mechanics. I am going to learn about that because we are going to navigate what kind of journey he should be on to pursue that after high school.

How is the journey going, JaRon? Have you started to pursue auto mechanics at school?

Yes. I’m in the youth apprenticeship program. Next year, for three hours a day, I will go to Belleville to do hands-on mechanics. It is all year round. I get credit for it and they’ll help me get ready.

Mary Beth won the Dane County BBBS' "Big of the Year." JaRon, I imagine you had to write something about her. What did you say?

I wrote about our match and what we do when we hang out. I (highlighted) the outdoor stuff that we do and other ways we spend time together, even if it is a short time, like grabbing ice cream. (Our match) has improved my life a lot. Mary Beth is there if I need help with anything. Her kids are there for me, too.

JaRon, what advice would you have for other mentees to make the most of their experience with their mentor?

I’d tell them it’s going to be fun and they should focus on getting to know each other.

Mary Beth, do you have any advice for future mentors?

I’d tell them to just do it. Don’t worry too much about the time commitment or the things that tend to prevent people from doing it. I do think it is possible for it to become an integrated part of one’s life and it’s so worth it. It never hurts to have more good people in your life. If a program like BBBS can facilitate those types of relationships, I think people should go for it. It can feel intimidating because people think they should know what they’re doing or have a certain level of insight, but I just don’t look at mentorship that way. I certainly didn't feel like I had all the answers, but I think JaRon and I and our families all bring different strengths to the table, and that's one of the ways mentorship can work, too. I wish more people in this community would do it.

It’s been fun to have another young person in my life who is full of potential and see him grow through learning about himself and what he wants to do. That’s just enriching for anybody in an older generation.