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Kate Snow

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On Being A Big Sister

Posted: 01/26/09 08:29 AM ET

Good Morning America weekend co-anchor Kate Snow was interviewed for National Mentoring Month by veteran TV industry writer Michele Greppi, who has served as a mentor to so many others herself.

Michele Greppi: What would you consider your first experience with mentoring?

Kate Snow: There are so many different ways to define mentor. My parents have probably been my biggest mentors. I had some great teachers, as everybody probably had, some teachers who pushed me toward writing, and encouraged my writing in high school, Mr. Horne in 12th grade at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake in Burnt Hills, N.Y.

MG: What imprint did he leave on you?

KS: He taught creative writing. He was the first teacher I ever had who told me It was okay to just be myself, you know, to write with my own style. He was just so encouraging. I had had some other teachers before him who were sort of "you have to cross every 't' and dot every 'i' and I was a little discouraged by that. He wanted us to be creative and he wanted us to ask a lot of questions. I loved it, which is so obvious in hindsight, because of what I do for a living: reporting... He opened my eyes to being inquisitive, but also and the kind of questions you can ask and where you can go to get information and how easy it is to be a reporter.

MG: What was the first time that you volunteered to be a mentor? And why did it happen then?

KS: The first time I volunteered formally to be a mentor was with Big Brothers Big Sisters, which would have been in 1996. I was living in New Mexico. I must have seen an ad somewhere and had the notion that it would be an easy thing to do. I had some free time. And it might be helpful to someone. I had always done some level of volunteering, but I was living in New Mexico, in Albuquerque. I had moved there from Atlanta. It's a classic TV story. I had actually had a pretty good-paying job in Atlanta. I was a producer at CNN, I was 23 years old. I ditched everything to try to pursue this dream of being on air.

In fact, I had a mentor who helped me make my tapes. This woman, who was a local reporter in Atlanta. She was fantastic. She took me out on Sundays and took me under her wing. Every Sunday she let me tag along with her and really watch everything she did and emulate her and follow the story she was doing. I would sort of use her raw material and do my own story and then make a tape off of that. I sent the tape to a hundred different stations. I got three offers. I ended up in New Mexico.

I know no one. I'm taking a huge pay cut. I'm living in a tiny little cruddy apartment, dirt cheap. I didn't have a lot of friends. But I had a lot of free time. I thought: "What could I be doing to fill up some of my time? Maybe I could spend a little time volunteering. So I called Big Brother Big Sisters and I got paired with this little girl, Amanda She was six years old. That was my first formal job as a mentor.

If you had asked me then what I was getting myself into. I would have had no idea. But we're still paired to this day.

MG: How so?

KS: She's still my little sister. She just sent me an e-mail this morning. She's now 18 years old.

MG: What are her life and plans at this point?

KS: She is trying to get her GED. It's a very long story. The short version is that she is from a really difficult part of Albuquerque, a pretty low-income part of town, high-crime section of town. She has a wonderful mother, who has been on and off assistance. Her father was killed by police. She has a sister and a brother. Her mom signed her up for the program. She cares a lot. Amanda honestly didn't have any role models or mentors in her life who had finished high school, let alone college. She and I talk all the time and have for the last 12 years.

In the beginning, we were in the same town, obviously. At least once a week, sometimes twice a week, we would get together and spend like an afternoon together. I took her to ride bikes, we'd go to the museum, go hiking, go to the aquarium, just little things. We'd get ice cream. We'd go bowling. Almost all of those things she had never done before. It's hard to understand if you grew up like you and I did. Everybody goes bowling, right? She'd never been bowling. They didn't have the resources to do the kinds of thing most kids do.

So I was able to open her eyes to a lot of the world. Then I left New Mexico and I have this strange job where I travel all over the world and all over the country. I send her postcards from all kinds of different places. It's constant reinforcement you can be something and you can do something with your life. You can finish school. You can maybe travel some day. I think it's made a pretty big difference in her life, and she has said so many times. She called me a couple of weeks ago and said, "You're going to be pretty disappointed to hear this. I don't want to let you down. She's very conscious of what I think of her decisions, in a positive way.

MG: Beyond your relationship with Amanda, have you stayed involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters?

KS: A couple of years ago, Big Brother Big Sisters came to the "Good Morning America" studio for something and I mentioned to the publicist: "By the way, I have a little sister." One thing led to another and they invited me to speak at their annual national banquet two summers ago. They invited me and Amanda to come.

MG: That must have been great.

KS: It was fabulous. We had so much fun. By that time, I had actually flown her a couple of times, to D.C. once and to New York once for week-long trips. She stayed with my family.

So we went to Phoenix and I saw the organization and I met with all these people and I thought, "Gosh, they're doing all these amazing things on a national level. I had kind of not had a sense for what the whole program was. I had been just one little cog in the system. I hadn't realized how big it was.

Judith Vredenburgh, who's an amazing president and CEO, and I had lunch, and, again, one thing led to another and she convinced me - actually she didn't need to convince me, I offered to join the national board. We just kind of guide the national organization. We meet quarterly.

MG: What impact has big brothers-big sisters had on your life?

KS: A huge impact. It's almost hard to put into words. My life is totally different because of my relationship with Amanda... It may sound silly but there are certain relationships that just open your eyes, as much as I've maybe opened her eyes to things she never would have seen, she's opened my eyes to things I never would have seen. Really, this country is pretty segmented. I was introduced to a lot of things by Amanda.

Having the ability to mentor someone is a feeling you don't get any other way. There is something about helping someone, knowing that you're helping guide someone else that's indescribable. It's humbling but it's also so rewarding. It gives me a lot of joy knowing that I matter to her in some small way. I don't want to over-inflate my role in her life. She certainly has other people in her life who also matter a lot. Her family's very important to her. But I know I've made some difference in her view of the world and what she's going to do with herself. I don't think she would be doing everything she's doing now, getting the GED, still pushing that and she's looking for a job.

We're mentoring a quarter of a million kids out there. It's such a little thing. One day a week by a whole army of foot solders.

MG: Is Amanda herself still involved with Big Sisters?

KS: To the extent that I am. She came again this year to the national conference in St. Louis. And she's somewhat involved on the local level. She's not a mentor herself yet, although she says she wants to be. I think she wants to wait until she gets her own life in order.

MG: Once you get to know a child, is it hard to be able to be not completely involved in their lives?

KS: The distance isn't hard for us. I'll be honest. There are plenty of times when she calls me and tells me something and I wish I could be there to help more. But the positives still outweigh the negatives.

MG: Do you think the sagging economy and rising unemployment, in an odd way, will be good for mentoring organizations, because people will have time and will feel that if they give they'll get back?

KS: I do. We've been talking about that a lot at our national-level meetings. And I think now that there's a national turn inward, people examining themselves and their lives. Part of that is how can I give back? If you're working a little less, maybe you have more time to give back.

The other thing is that we are not just about volunteer hours. Big Brothers-Big Sisters also needs money. There's this huge infrastructure of making these matches happen. It require as a lot of money to keep it going. We're hoping the fund-raising continues, too.

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January is National Mentoring Month and is spearheaded by the Harvard School of Public Health, MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, and the Corporation for National and Community Service. For more information on the importance of mentoring, go to www.whomentoredyou.org.