Starting out as a husband accompanying his wife to charity events, Mitchell Epstein called himself an “observer” when it came to philanthropy. That all changed four years ago.
Starting out as a husband accompanying his wife to charity events, Mitchell Epstein called himself an “observer” when it came to philanthropy. That changed four years ago, when he got involved with the YMCA Foundation of Sarasota and started volunteering with the Y Achievers program. Since he began volunteering with the program, Epstein says he’s learned as much as the young men he mentors. The most valuable lesson? Always keep things in perspective.
We moved here seven years ago and early on my wife, Dawn, met Debbie and Dan Dannheisser, and that’s when Dawn got totally involved. She got involved with Y Angels, she co-chaired two galas and, honestly, I was more of an observer. I’d write a check and I would support her, but I was just there to observe.
I went to the events, we hosted things at our home and it was a lot of fun, but I still really didn’t do anything. From those things though, I would hear stories from the kids and see the things that were happening because of the programs. Seeing how important these programs and the money we were raising for these programs were to their lives and the opportunities it was giving them, that’s when I started getting more involved with the Y Achievers program.
Sometimes it's hard to know if what you’re doing is making a difference, especially with the mentor program, because you’re meeting with these kids and you’re having good conversations. You think you’re helping them, but you just can’t be sure. It’s a great feeling though when you know what you’re doing is meaningful.
The Y went to the Orioles spring training game in March and took about 200 kids. It was a Sunday and I went with the guys I mentor. I typically meet with them on Monday and Tuesday, so I figured they’d skip meeting the next week since we were going to the game. The game finished, we were saying our goodbyes and they start going over their schedules for the week to find a time to get together. It was amazing to me that they wanted me to be a part of their week as usual. I’m a part of their life and they are a part of mine.
A few weeks ago at a Y Achievers meeting, there were five students and mentors that all spoke, and my two guys were a part of that. Everyone there was blown away by all five stories. The kids got up there with such poise while speaking. At the end of my guy’s talk, he said he had made a best friend in me. Wow. That just floored me — how rewarding is that? That’s what drives me.
I’ve gained so much perspective from my time with mentoring. These kids are always smiling, always positive. These guys never complain about anything. I’ve tried to think about a time they’ve complained about something, and I just can’t seem to find a time. I complain, we all complain, but what are we complaining about? It really helps you examine and think about all of these different things.
My favorite memories with the guys I mentor involve seeing their excitement as they tell me or text me about making an A on a test or being named the employee of the quarter or that they just set the record for number of sales in a month. Or the pride Coy had of showing me his 401k statement, or hearing their determination and passion about wanting more for themselves and their families and even being determined to be a great father some day.
It just really stops and makes you think. From that I think I’m kinder, more compassionate, more sympathetic and less judgmental. It’s important to remember that no matter who you meet, you don’t know their story.
My purpose is both to impact more kids and to encourage others to volunteer and get more involved. I’ve been asked to speak about my experience and I try to encourage people, to help them understand how impactful this is for their lives and yours. The saying “the more you give, the more you get” — I now understand what that means.