We are pleased to bring you this special guest post from Melody Wachtel, JBBBSLA’s new College Programs Assistant. In this post, Melody shares her perspective on her many experiences with our agency from Little to camper to Teen Talk advisor to college scholar. Melody is currently a junior at California Lutheran University majoring in Marketing Communications and serving as a Lead Student Ambassador.
I first joined JBBBSLA in 2016, after the passing of my dad in late 2014, when I was just 14 years old. Growing up as an only child and suddenly losing my dad at such a young age, my mom thought having a “Big” would be a great opportunity for me to have someone I can look up to and to be a guiding light during tough times. Ideally, she wanted me to be matched with someone who was younger and had possibly shared a similar experience. Thanks to the mentorship team at JBBBSLA, I was lucky enough to be matched with Melissa, someone who has become one of my best friends to this day.
Melissa also lost her dad at a young age and we immediately bonded through our shared experiences. Through the rest of high school and even as I started college, my Big became someone I was comfortable to talk to about anything and everything, and I looked forward to spend as much time as possible with her. She supported me in all I accomplished and to this day I am so grateful to have her in my life. I know that the bond we have is strong and I hope it continues to grow as I get older.
While I was a Little, I took part in many of the group bonding activities for Bigs and Littles and applied to JBBBSLA’s brand-new Teen Talk peer support program. I am proud to have been part of the first cohort of Teen Advisors to go through the program. Being a Teen Talk advisor greatly shaped who I am today and stands out as my favorite JBBBSLA program. I always had a passion to give back to others and provide support to anyone in need; the program was the perfect way to do so for other teens my age. It also helped me personally, as I had lost three family members in one year and my fellow Teen Advisors supported me during a challenging time.
Volunteering as a Teen Talk Teen Advisor made me feel happy when I could see how grateful the teens were to receive the support and guidance they needed. After being an advisor for the Teen Talk app, I gladly participated as a guest speaker for two other Teen Talk training cohorts where I shared my experience of what got me into Teen Talk and what it was like to be an advisor. It really was something special to see how much this program evolved over time and to talk to these students who were motivated to make a change in the teen community.
I have also been a camper at the Kibbutz Bob Waldorf camp for a week away from home. That experience gave me the chance to get out of my comfort zone and meet new people as well as make friends I follow on social media to this day. Camp also provided many opportunities to give back to the community and participate in impactful service projects. It also provided a safe place for me to get the comfort and support I needed to be able to open up about the loss of my dad and the challenges I was facing.
Lastly, thanks to being a Little and a camper, I was eligible for JBBBSLA’s Erwin Rautenberg College Guidance Program where students receive free professional college counseling to help them plan for college. Thanks to this program, I had the pleasure of working with Roberta, my assigned College Counselor, to plan my college future. Without Roberta’s help, I truly do not know how I would have looked for multiple scholarships, written numerous essays, and completed eight scholarship applications. I am eternally grateful for all the time she gave me and the ways she pushed me out of my comfort zone to write about personal experiences in my essays and create something authentic to share. Her help and support gave way to me getting into seven out of eight of the colleges I applied to, and I cannot thank her enough.
Another way JBBBSLA has impacted my life is through the College Scholarship program for former Littles and campers. For the past three years, I have been a JBBBSLA Scholar and have had the opportunity to talk about my experience at the annual Scholarship Brunch. As I continue through college, I look forward to participating in JBBBSLA’s Student Ambassador program as a Student Ambassador to help create programs for college students to bond and build their careers. I also will gladly join the alumni program after I graduate from college in 2022.
Since I joined the agency, I have felt immense levels of support and have grown so close with many teens that I have met in these programs as well as with so many of the agency staff! It has been a wonderful outlet for me since transitioning from high school to college, and now throughout college and beyond. It has made me feel more empowered as a Jew and I am so grateful for everything this agency has offered me and done for me.
I have wanted to give back to the JBBBSLA community and to other teens like myself since I first connected with this non-profit as a Little in 2016. I knew that someday I wanted to work with all of the agency’s staff, and I am more than thrilled to see how I have come full circle to now be part of the team. I am looking forward to working with more of the staff, as well as being able to give my creative insights to see these programs evolve into something even bigger. I know that JBBBBSLA will always have such a big impact on my heart and life, and I am excited to see my journey grow as part of their team!