Becoming Hobbes

When I was a kid, I loved to read “Calvin and Hobbes.”

I still do. Really, what’s not to like? But there’s a distinct difference between how I see in the iconic cartoon duo now versus what I saw as a kid.

As a kid, “Calvin and Hobbes” was something to read in the comics section of the Sunday paper, something to make me laugh and nothing more. As I read it now though, I look at Calvin and Hobbes from a different angle. The comic takes on a new meaning – a more philosophical meaning, influenced by the boring, gray world of adulthood, I guess. Lately, I’ve found there’s a lot of life lessons to be learned from “Calvin and Hobbes,” particularly from Hobbes, the stuffed tiger, imaginary friend and most importantly, childhood mentor to the bright, albeit dysfunctional six-year-old Calvin.

I know it sounds awfully “Full House”-ish, but I really do believe mentorship is a priority, particularly in a rural area such as ours, where so many kids seem to have nothing better to do but talk like truckers in the Byrne Dairy parking lot. There’s no question that mentoring helps to shape productive, open-minded and more tolerant members of society, and it eases kids in the transition between youth and all its disappointments into adulthood ... and all its disappointments.

With the news this week that The Place in Norwich is ending the Chenango County Big Brother Big Sister program, I started thinking more about the importance of mentorship, and the prevalence of it in this area ... or the unfortunate lack thereof. There’s a lot of Calvins around, but I don’t see enough Hobbes’. Hobbes knew what mentoring was all about. He listened, he made himself available, and he served as the voice of reason to counterbalanced Calvin’s overly adventurous personality (and in retrospect, I wonder if Calvin would live to see his seventh birthday if not for Hobbes).

Sadly, I think Norwich falls short in the area of youth mentoring (which isn’t too surprising given the way the average American culture has changed over the years). Less than 30 adult volunteers are affiliated with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Chenango County – a real imbalance of the 160 plus youth under that age of 18 that are involved in the program. Mentoring just doesn’t top the “to do” list for most people, and it shows. It shows in the attitudes and the behaviors of so many local kids and the way they act, the way they dress, and the way they talk (some of the conversations I overhear from The Evening Sun office on Lackawana Ave. are enough to make virgin ears bleed).

People have an odd frame of mind when it comes to mentorship. While most everyone agrees that it’s an important part of growing up (countless studies back that) few people – even some of the parents I’ve met – simply aren’t willing to bear the burden of becoming a mentor, choosing instead to pass the buck to someone else. Whenever something goes wrong at the Norwich High School, for example, so many are quick to blame the administration. I once heard it said, “fix the administration, fix the problem.” True, teachers and school officials wear many hats, mentor being one, but kids need that support system outside school walls too. In come the Hobbes’ of the community, the ones who take the time to guide those kids into the challenges of adulthood.

The problem in Chenango? There’s a shortage of Hobbes’. Where are the mentors of our community, the ones willing to sacrifice a little time but still make a big difference for the better of the community? It’s sad that Big Brother Big Sister is closing its doors. But as Liberty Partnership picks up a new mentoring program where Big Brothers Big Sisters left off, it would be great to see more people becoming Hobbes.

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