Mentoring turns out to be 'a really good thing to do'
Mark Berntson figured he had some extra time to give when he settled into his job as a band teacher in West Fargo. After seeing TV commercials about the Big Brother Big Sister program, he called to find out what it entailed. "I just thought it se...
Mark Berntson figured he had some extra time to give when he settled into his job as a band teacher in West Fargo.
After seeing TV commercials about the Big Brother Big Sister program, he called to find out what it entailed.
"I just thought it seemed like a really good thing to do," said Berntson, 37, who also is president of the West Fargo Education Association.
He ended up with a perfect match.
After an initial in-house meeting with Matt Gourneau, then 10, the two hit it off.
Gourneau, now a 15-year-old freshman, plays guitar and meets with Berntson once or twice a month. When Gourneau turned 1, he was adopted by his aunt and moved to Fargo, where he attends Discovery Middle School.
His biological mother is battling bone cancer, and his aunt signed him up for the program to find a male role model.
"He's really nice," Gourneau said of Berntson during a recent bowling excursion. "He helps me out with a lot of stuff. He listens to my music."
Mainly, the two spend time having fun bowling or attending sporting events, although they find time to talk about issues Gourneau is facing.
"I can tell when he's looking to me on how I handle things," Berntson said. "To help him mature and watching him grow up, it's been really rewarding and pretty cool."
Berntson, who doesn't play the guitar, also talks music theory with Gourneau, who's taking lessons and wants to start a band.
Although Berntson volunteers to spend time with Gourneau, the two also donate time helping others.
And Berntson also volunteers by serving food at United Churches for the Homeless once a month.
"If putting food on your own table isn't a problem, you should for others who need it," he said.
"The only real constant in your life, the only thing you can count on doing to make yourself happy, is to help others," Berntson said. "It's always easy to find others who need help and it feels good."
He advocates that others donate their time to volunteer as a big brother or sister. In Gourneau's case, he waited a year before his match with Berntson.
"If there are kids that want to do this, I think people should," Berntson said. "I think of all the things my dad did with me as a kid. If I didn't have that, I'd have a void."
Susan Smith, coordinator for the Big Brother Big Sister program through Fargo's Village Family Service Center, said 219 kids in Fargo-Moorhead are matched with adults.
More volunteers are needed to serve the 98 children waiting for a big brother or sister.
"We are providing mentoring and just having that additional adult support can be critical," she said.
Berntson said being Gourneau's big brother has been the most rewarding thing he's done in his life without exceptions.
"It's really nice to know I can make a difference in such an easy way. It's not rocket science. You just spend time with kids doing things they like to do."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Steven P. Wagner at (701) 241-5542