King City man paying it forward
Randall Rene's childhood in Salem was far from idyllic — but thanks to a couple mentors of in his life, he was able to get through it. Now, Rene is passing on that kindness as an award-winning member of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program.
"I came from a tough background as a kid," Rene recalled recently. "A lot of violence in my home. My mother and stepfather struggled with a lot of things."
When the fights inside his house became too much to bear, Rene would go outside. A next door neighbor, Neil, knew about the violence happening in Rene's family, so he'd play catch over the fence and chat with Rene to help take his mind off things.
In high school, Rene's track coach, Carl, would stay after practice and give him more drills to do, so that he wouldn't have to go home. They'd pass the time talking about nothing in particular, just keeping each other company.
"I wouldn't have graduated high school if it hadn't been for them and their mentorship," Rene said about Neil and Carl. "Mentoring isn't always about teaching someone something. Mentoring is just about being there, and being a friend to someone."
Today, Rene is an 18-year Comcast employee, King City resident, and recent graduate of the master of business arts program at George Fox University. He's also a "Big Brother" to Henry, a William Walker Elementary School student.
In June, Rene was honored as Big Brother of the Year for the state of Oregon. Big Brothers Big Sisters is a national organization that pairs at-risk kids with mentors in their communities. Rene has been a Big Brother for about five years now.
"Several years ago, I saw that we were offering this program called Beyond School Walls, which partners with Big Brothers Big Sisters to bring littles into the workplace," Rene said. "I thought, you know what, I'm going to jump in and see if this is something that works for me."
Rene's relationship with Henry is much like the relationship Rene had with his childhood mentors: they meet at Henry's school or Rene's office and spend time reading, doing homework, building soda can robots or just talking about life.
Rene also makes it a point to show Henry how the skills he's learning in school could become useful later in life.
"I'll bring him to my office, and I'll show him: this uses math, this uses science, this uses geography," Rene said. "So I show him these subjects that he's struggling with in school, and that makes them more real, and shows him he has to pay attention to them."
When Rene graduated from his MBA program last year, he wanted Henry to share in the accomplishment, so he invited Henry and his mother to attend the ceremony. This was an unusual thing to happen within the Beyond School Walls program — typically "Bigs" and "Littles" just spend time together at school or the office — but Rene made it happen.
"I thought it was important for him to be there so he could feel it and see it, and know that it was something he could do," he said.
In the nomination for Rene's Big Brother of the Year, Henry's mother said that he now dreams of going to college. "That was really pretty cool to hear" for Rene.
Henry spoke at the June ceremony, in which Rene received his award. For Rene, that was a sign that his work with the boy is paying off.
"Henry never would have been able to do that when I first met him," he said. "He's happier, he's healthier, and he's more engaged than when I first met him."