This Tuesday, Give a Gift That Will Change a Life

12/03/2013 09:26 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2014

So this week is #GivingTuesday (the perfect antidote to the consumerism of #BlackFriday and #CyberMonday), and I personally can't think of a better way to give back than to become a mentor.

For over 5 years, I've been a proud volunteer and advocate for Big Brothers Big Sisters Los Angeles, one of the premiere youth mentoring organizations in the nation. BBBSLA means a great deal to me, since not only am I a current Big Brother, but I was also once a Little Brother. So I know the life-altering power of mentoring from both sides.

Since I've already told my story in a previous article, I won't go into too much detail about it here. But suffice it to say I wouldn't be the person I am today without my Big Brother, Congressman Adam Schiff, and BBBSLA. Let's face it: the world can be a scary, unfair place, full of obstacles, difficult choices and inequities -- and that's especially true for at-risk children and children raised in single-parent households, such as I was. To complicate matters, most of us no longer live in places where it's the community's shared responsibility to help mentor a young person. The African proverb "It takes a village to raise a child" isn't some piece of quasi-socialist propaganda -- it's the wise recognition that children need more than their parents to fully develop. (And sadly, many at-risk kids aren't raised by their parents, so they can't even rely on that.)

That said, mentors don't have to act as surrogate parents to be effective. Even if they only see the kids they mentor a few hours a month, they can still provide vital instruction, positive motivation and critical survival tools that, over time, can deeply impact a young person's destiny -- and in most cases, change it for the better.

And for you data geeks, I'm not just weaving rainbows here -- the metrics bear it out: in 2013, 97 percent of the children that BBBSLA serves graduated from high school, a statistic well above the graduation rate for at-risk children nationwide. In other words, mentoring works!

I'll confess, being a mentor is no easy commitment. It takes time, patience and emotional investment. And since many of us lead busy and demanding lives, even carving out a few hours each month to see your mentee can be a challenge. But the ROI can't be beat, because nothing is more rewarding in the long run than helping a young boy or girl reach their true potential. And for the mentor, the return is twofold, since the relationship is often just as rewarding to the mentor as it is to the mentee -- something to which I can certainly attest.

If you're interested in supporting the work BBBSLA does, there are several ways you can get involved. First, you could volunteer to become a Big Brother or Big Sister. Right now, there are over 300 kids on the BBBSLA waiting list -- three fourths of whom are boys. Each of those kids is desperate to be paired with a Big Brother or Big Sister. Trust me, I know what they're feeling: I was on the waiting list for two years before I got paired with Adam. And if those kids are anything like me, a new toy or video game isn't at the top of their Christmas list. They'd much rather be paired with a mentor.

Second, if you're unable to volunteer on weekends, BBBSLA also has school and worksite mentoring programs that offer weekday opportunities to mentor at-risk children.

Finally, if you're truly unable to find the time to volunteer, you can always donate. BBBSLA is a non-profit organization, and every dollar we raise helps to create a match that can change a young person's life. And believe me, every dollar counts!

Like I said, most of us no longer live in villages, but we can still help mentor and support our children. So if you can this week, please consider giving a gift that will have both a measurable and an immeasurable impact on a child's future. Become a mentor or a donor on #GivingTuesday. I guarantee it'll be a better gift than anything you bought on Black Friday. And will certainly last a lot longer.