The quiet POWER of example!


In our busiest week of mentor recruitment I got inspired by the power of example.

Grandma Wallace” is a foster grandparent at Red Arrow School in Hartford, near Kalamazoo, Michigan.   She spends five hours, four days a week with the kindergarteners in Mrs Foster’s class.   She gets a little stipend from the Office on Aging; it amounts to about $2 per hour.   And for that money, Grandma Wallace doesn’t just stretch, befriend, and support the 25 kids.   She also uplifts the teacher, administrators and staff with her effort.   I could only smile at her vitality and generosity.

The next day I met Kate Zajac who mentors through the Center for Independent Living in Ann Arbor.   She was recognized as a “super-mentor” by the Washtenaw Mentoring Collaborative.   Her Cerebral Palsy is not cause for self pity but is a source of knowledge and strength she lends to others.   She mentors a girl who suffers too from CP, but who also has learning disabilities and recently went blind.   Katie made my point better than I could; she said, “We, the mentors, can talk with young people with disabilities about self-advocacy, but it is by demonstrating it that we make the greatest impact on their lives.”   And she does demonstrate it.   I offered to bring Katie’s super-mentor certificate down to her seat, but she deliberately and proudly worked her walker up and down the metal ramp.   Lesson learned.   Thank you, Katie.

Tad Wysor started mentoring his little guy, but the boy ran into troubles and was placed in a juvenile support camp 100 miles away.   Oh well.   No, not oh well.   Tad decided he’s just going to drive once a month to the camp to see this fellow, even as Tad adds that he is still not sure the boy yet sees him as a friend.   And when the boy’s mother expressed her frustration at not being able to see her son, Tad drove her the 100 miles, then arranged to get her out there once a month, too.   It’s through the quiet power of example that Tad’s effort made my challenges as a mentor suddenly feel amazingly insignificant.

The same night I was in Macomb County for their mentoring celebration.   I was struck by Brittany.   She’s been mentoring one girl for 3 years and about a year and a half ago picked up a second mentee.   I wondered how many of the other mentors assembled that night felt the same way I did, as I shook her hand and said, “You rock!”   What a wonderful example.

Leaders talk.   And when leaders act things change.   When leaders roll up their sleeves, put their shoulders to the wheel, answer the phones, pick up the trash, put in the hours, and sweat, people take notice.   What do your people see with you?   Do you set the pace?   Do you roll your walker up the tough ramp and back down even though somebody whose happy to bring your certificate to you?   It’s by actions that you

Lead with your best self.


  • Absolutely, nothing can take the place of experience, and no action leads better than leading by example. I’ve said this for years from experiences mentoring to speaking to groups of young boys and girls. The strength of leading by example is unmatched. A detractor might refute your words or proposed vision, but to see that proposeal or vision in positive action may not be vastly questioned . I am the man I am today for various reasons, but in large part to the example my father set. To me, doing going to work every day, doing housework, holding doors for ladies, and befriending those that others wont, are examples that my first mentor, my father showed me. BY EXAMPLE. The plan is to keep working with the young boys/girls who sadly dont have a sufficient father figure in their lives, to give them the benefit of our example. Readers remember, it’s not about us,our politics,or our income, rather, about the kids.

  • We would all improve our leadership skills if we remembered that every day, we are setting an example for others to follow. I remember an interview with NBA great Charles Barkley, as often recognized for being a “bad boy” as a talented basketball star. When asked if he was concerned about kids choosing him as their role model (in light of his actions off the court), Barkley replied, “I am not a role model!” Unfortunately, we are role models, and we do set an example, whether we “choose” to do so or not, and whether we recognize it or not. We do not get to choose whether another person chooses us as a role model. But, we can choose the example we set.

  • Dan, the mentors in your examples are wonderful illustrations of the Gospel call to be a light for others. Thanks!

  • Dan,
    There is NOTHING like lived experience that teaches and shows us the way. Thanks for those stories. Actions DO speak louder than words!

  • After reading your inspiring refections on mentorship and the heroic individuals who “live to serve” I cannot help but reflect on my own experiences. From troubled youths involved in theatre programs to youth groups to one-on-one crisis calls over the phone, the one thing that always stayed with me through it all was this “persistance”. I never gave up. No matter how big or small the conflict, no matter how hopeless it seemed, I could never give in to that little nagging voice that told me this is to hard, you will never get through, things will never change, there has to be an easier and faster way. I persisted even when the powers that be ( usually those that didn’t wanted to be bothered) gave up. So, I leave you with this…Dan may you and Jennifer and all those that serve as leaders never give up or give in to those that appose you..keep strong and be persistant.

  • This was a wonderful and enlighten speech. I have Mentored through the S.M.A.R.T Program and found it to been not only self rewarding but also as a learning experience. I learned so much from the chidren and about myself. It’s the best thing I could have ever done. We should all give something back. I know for sure that if others didn’t help me to get to where I am today, Who knows where I would be.

  • I agree wholehearted with the sentiments of your article, we all are leaders, like it or not. I do, however, take great offense at the second paragraph when you refer to the mentee as “a girl who also suffers from CP”. It doesn’t sound like mentor Kate Zajac “suffers” from CP. As a Pediatric Physical Therapist, my case load includes many children and young people with cerebral palsy. I can tell you that most of them embrace life as energetically, if not more, than many non-disabled people do. We each experience life from a unique perspective. For some that is the perspective of CP, for some diabetes, for some cancer, for some infertility and so on. Let’s remember to separate judgemental descriptors from our language and celebrate each person’s unique contribution to our lives.

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