Mark Davidson and Jamial
Shouting voices, the patter of basketballs bouncing and the squeak of athletic shoes on hardwood floor fill the air in the YMCA gym. Mark Davidson, anchor at KSN, has come here with Jamial, his Little from the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, to shoot a few hoops on their weekly outing — but first he takes a few minutes to pause and reminisce about his own mentor as a teenager in Kansas City.
“There was a basketball coach when I was growing up that still stands out to me as a mentor,” Davidson says. Galen Soule was Davidson’s coach from the time he was in 4th grade until he was in high school and “he was a really good example to us, not only as to how to be a good basketball player, and the fundamentals of the game, but he talked to us about peer pressure and kind of avoiding the temptations of alcohol...I could hear him in my head at different times in my life; he was a really positive influence.”
Echoes of the coach’s voice
“There are choices that I’ve made in my life to get to this point that were a direct impact of some of the things he talked about and some of the things that he taught us and the example he set,” Davidson says.
Is there anything he would like to say to his old coach today? “Simply, ‘Thank you.’ I would tell him thanks and, you know, hope that this can in some way be my chance to pay it forward from what I absorbed from him.”
When Jamial joins the interview it becomes clear that by joining Big Brothers Big Sisters, Davidson has found a way to continue the circle of mentoring.
Jamial enjoys the time he spends with his Big Brother playing basketball, riding go karts, eating at Chuck E. Cheese’s and even being on TV together. “He’s grateful, helpful and he does a lot of things for me,” Jamial says. “He celebrated my birthday with me and tells me things to do with life and stuff.”
Davidson chimes in: “We talk more about school, what he’s up to; we were talking about fractions on the way over here…I think he had all A’s and B’s, didn’t ya? Yeah, he’s been on the honor roll so he does really well in school. I’m really proud of him.”
Finding the perfect match
Davidson has nothing but good words to say about the process that led him to Jamial. Big Brothers and Big Sisters “really is a great program because by looking at the profiles and interests and things like that we were able to come up with a great match for both of us….I see some of myself in him at that age.”
Like Soule, Davidson finds that it’s not so much particular lessons he strives to impart that make a difference so much as just spending time with Jamial and leading by example. “The mentoring just comes out naturally,” he says. Another discovery about mentoring is that “I get as much out of it as he does. I can be having a bad day and spending a couple hours with Jamial puts me in a good mood…it works both ways.”
Andrea Cassell, special ed teacher and cookbook author, didn’t travel far to find her mentor growing up. “The first person would be my mother,” she says, when asked about her mentor.
Cassell’s mother, Della Zaher, was a school principal in Miami and was proclaimed national Outstanding Principal of the Year during the Reagan years. “They had a black tie dinner in her honor… she was able to balance everything…she was able to have dinner for us, she was able to be a principal and get me to a million — and I mean a million activities.”
Zaher was assigned to the most challenging schools in poverty-stricken black and Haitian neighborhoods — and she turned them all around. Even though Zaher has a roomful of trophies, banners and plaques and is a local celebrity in the Miami area where she still lives, and even though Cassell herself is a former model, Miami Dolphins cheerleader and Miss Kansas and is, likewise, a local celebrity in her adopted city of Wichita, these trappings are not the heritage she most values from her mentor mother.
Cassell learned at the knees of her mother that “others’ achievements are forgotten, but you will always remember a few teachers who aided your journey, you will always remember friends who aided you through difficult times…you’ll always remember people who made you feel appreciated and special.”
“She was able to do it all and still be an incredible human being, and be a giver… she is one of the most unselfish and giving people I know.”
“You can do it. You have a gift.”
When Cassell announced in her fourth year of college that she was changing her major from nursing to teaching special ed, her mother’s first response was to drop the phone — but then she immediately shifted into high gear with the encouragement. “You can do it. You have a gift. You would be an awesome teacher,” she told her daughter.
Cassell continues to add titles to her resume, and her mentor is still there “giving strokes.” When Cassell decided to write a cookbook, Zaher was there by her side, digging out the recipes of her own mother and arranging a mini book tour in Miami. Everyone in Miami knows Della Zaher: a writer with The Miami Herald sent Cassell an email saying, “I love your mother; we’d love to do a story on you when you’re down in Miami.”
“Wow, I made a difference!”
Even with a flourishing new career as a cookbook author, Cassell has no intention of giving up her roll as teacher and tutor to children with special needs. She loves watching a child with Down’s syndrome grow and learn to talk, read and write, and having the feeling, “Wow, I did that. Wow, I made a difference!”
“What my mother told me, I tell parents the same thing,” Cassell says. “Your child can do this. So many doctors don’t give these parents hope. They say, ‘Be realistic, your child won’t “He talked to us about peer pressure and avoiding tHe temptations of alcoHol.” learn.’ Me — I was like a locomotive. I was like, ‘Yes! We’re gonna do this.’”