IMPACT
07/06/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

It Just Takes One: Ben De Leon Encourages Others To Become Big Brothers

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In honor of Mother's Day, HuffPost Impact presents It Just Takes One, a series on children and the tutors, mentors, guardians and others who have made a difference in their lives. We'll be featuring a new story every day through Mother's Day.

A successful attorney and dedicated husband in Texas, Ben de Leon had a busy life -- he certainly didn't have the free time to volunteer.

"I made up the excuse of 'Well, I've got a job, I don't have enough time. I'm married. I'm already committed to other things.'"

Four years ago, however, he learned about a mentoring program through the First Baptist Church in Austin, Texas. Churchgoers were told that the program needed more mentors, especially male mentors. Ben was hesitant, but says that taking the chance and becoming a mentor is one of the best choices he has ever made.

He was paired with a seven-year-old boy named Anthony Saldaña, who hasn't seen his father in several years; his mother is also not a permanent figure in his life. Anthony lives with his grandparents, who put him on the waiting list at Big Brothers Big Sisters.

"I did not know Anthony's age, demographic or what he had been through," Ben said. "We just hit it off really well."

Ben and Anthony were only supposed to be paired for a few months, but at the end of the school year, Anthony brought Ben a surprise.

"The final day of the last week that I saw him, he brought me a letter written from his grandmother -- and I carry it in my briefcase -- asking me to be his big brother. That letter clinched it for me."

Anthony is now in sixth grade, and the two still see each other every week as part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. He's an avid football and basketball player -- Ben de Leon and Anthonyin fact, his dream is to play football for his favorite team, the University of Texas Longhorns. As a mentor, Ben helps Anthony with math and other studies, but his real job is just to "be there" for him.

"I have tried to instill in him the importance of education," Ben said. "Before we were matched, Anthony didn't even know where the U of T campus was. One of the first things I showed him was the campus -- showed him where I went to school and that he could do that too."

Anthony and Big Brothers Big Sisters are now a fixture in Ben's life -- he can't imagine it any other way. His dedication has not gone without notice. He was recognized as the 2009 National Big Brother of the Year. They were invited to the White House as part of National Mentoring Month. On the one-year anniversary of President Obama's inauguration, Anthony introduced the President, speaking just after the first lady.

"I just can't believe that we got to do that. I think Anthony kind of understands what it was he got to do. I can't think of a kid in the U.S. who can say they got to introduce the president."

You can see Anthony and Ben in this video from WhiteHouse.gov (Anthony speaks at the 5-minute mark):

Since being a mentor to Anthony, Ben and his wife have had two little girls of their own, two-and-a-half-year-old Anna, and Winslow, born on March 12 of this year. Anthony, he said, is a part of their family, and their relationship has made him a better father and a better attorney.

"He's taught me a lot about patience, perseverance, about treating people with dignity and respect," Ben said. "I subscribe to the golden rule, and as an attorney it's sometimes hard to do that. I try to envision Anthony in the room with me when I'm on a phone call or in the court room or having a disagreement with opposing council. My relationship with Anthony has permeated every aspect of my life for the better. He's taught me more than I ever could teach him."

Ben's most urgent request when talking to me was that I encourage others, especially men, to become "Bigs." In central Texas alone, there are 350 kids on the waiting list, and 69 percent are boys. Only 37 percent of volunteer mentors are men. These statistics stay consistent across the country; male mentors are in consistent need.

Ben said: "If someone's still on the fence -- I would say that if they feel that tug in their heart, if they feel like they want to get involved, they need to take that next step and just fill out the application and let the rest of it fall into place."

Learn more about the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and sign up to be a Big.